Globe Warms: Rainforest Burns

Forest fires rage across Indonesia and the Amazon

Feature story - September 14, 2006
In what is becoming an annual event, fires are sweeping through the tropical rainforests of Indonesia and Brazil. Burning rainforests not only threaten biodiversity in directly affected areas but, by contributing towards climate change, they also put the entire planet at risk.

In the tropics, months can pass without rain and in the dry season forests become susceptible to fire. These can occur naturally and would normally not pose a serious problem.  However, clearing land as a result of logging or to make way for plantations is exacerbating the problem and every year the fires spread faster and further.

Greenpeace teams in both Indonesia and Brazil have recorded the scale of the infernos and are clear about the reasons why they are happening. Much of the forests in the Indonesian province of Riau in Sumatra are peatland forests and  normally protected from fire by their boggy environment, but industrial activity has changed all that. The forests are being cleared for plantations of oil palms and acacia pulpwood for paper, creating the perfect conditions for fires at the same time.

"Once these peat swamps are exposed due to logging," Greenpeace forest campaigner Hapsoro explains, "they dry out like a wet sponge exposed to sunlight and become extremely flammable. Once it starts burning, it's very difficult to stop without heavy rain."

The effects of the Indonesian fire also spread across the region. As smoke drifts across South East Asia, clogging the air above the Malaysian peninsular and incurring the wrath of neighboring governments, Hapsoro urges the Indonesian authorities to take urgent measures. "The Indonesian government must seriously reconsider allowing any type of land clearing to be done in these areas to minimise the possibility of large and uncontrolled forest fires," he states.

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