Forest fires Indonesia continue to burn on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, and are on track to release more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire US economy this year.  Today, a coalition of Indonesian NGOs today sent an open letter to the government and to international buyers of pulp and paper and palm oil from Indonesia.

“It is now more than 100 days that people in Sumatra and Kalimantan suffered from uncontrollable haze” says the letter. The haze is coming from forest fires related to forest conversion and plantation management, especially on dried peat soil, and exacerbated by El Nino.

While the forest fires have burned 1.7 millions hectares, releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, people are forced to live in an atmosphere heavily polluted by sulfur-dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, causing respiratory illness, especially to small children.

“In Palangkaraya, on September 25, the pollution index reached 2,300, forcing people to wear masks in their home” says the letter. Schools are closed, airports works discontinuously, and even the neighbors countries, such as Singapore are affected by the haze.

According to satellite data, says the letter, such fires have mostly occured in the concessions of large companies, notably the pulp plantation linked to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). Four APP suppliers have received a “Preventive Measures Notice” from the Government of Singapore for potential violations of Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, while some of them are being investigated by the Indonesian authorities.

Forest fires are also located in the concessions of APP competitor, Asia Pacific Resources Limited (APRIL) and to palm oil plantations, such as those controlled by Golden Agri Resources (GAR, sister company of APP), Wilmar and CARGIL.

The letter demand to the government to stop issuing permits for pulp and palm oil plantations and to convict the companies linked to forest fires.  The NGOs also ask to buyers and investor to stop any business with the companies involved in forest fires.  Specifically, the letter says

On the uncontrolled forest fires, and the suffering of people as the impact of these fires, we act as follows:

1.  Urge the government to stop issuing new permits for HTI and oil palm plantations, and rationalize the size of existing concession area of oil palm plantation and industrial timber estate (HTI).

2. The massive fires in 2 largest pulp and paper in Indonesia, APP and APRIL has convinced us, NGOs that signed this letter, that the implementation of zero deforestation and sustainability commitment of both companies have failed to prevent forest fires in their concessions and their suppliers’ working area.

3. Membership RSPO attached to the four giant palm plantation companies has no impact on fire prevention. To that end, we urge the RSPO to take action against its members associated with forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and raise the standard of oil palm plantation management policy in preventing fires.

4.  Urge the government to have no doubt in enforcing the law particularly on environmental issues. Law enforcement is now very uncertain, where the perpetrators are often free from any conviction or the process is stopped. Law enforcement on forest fires that are currently happened is essential to prevent effects and to prevent forest fire in the coming years.

5.  Urge all consumers, purchasers and fund suppliers of the companies involved in forest fires such as APP, APRIL, GAR, WILMAR, and CARGIL to stop all cooperation and or stop using their products, until there is a proven improvement and evaluation of their commitments by independent parties. It is important to assist these companies to seriously carry out their commitment to zero deforestation, and protect Indonesian community from the dangers of forest and peat fires in the future.

The full letter, available below, is signed by TUK Indonesia, HAKA, JMGJ, JMG South Sumatra, PUSAKA, Linkar Borneo PADI, HaKI, Persatuan Petani Jambi, Jikalahari

Download the letter in English here