JAKARTA, March 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indonesia
is recruiting tribespeople to help fight outbreaks of haze which
shroud Southeast Asia every year with a government deal designed
to tap into traditional ways of containing forest fires.
The region suffers every dry season from a haze caused by
smouldering fires, often set deliberately to clear land for pulp
and paper and palm oil plantations on Sumatra and Borneo
Most of the fires are on peat land which are highly
inflammable and often cause fires to spread beyond their
intended areas, sending smoke across to neighbours Singapore and
For the first time, the Peatlands Restoration Agency - set
up by President Joko Widodo in 2016 to fight the fires - has
struck a deal with indigenous groups in a bid to tap their
traditional knowledge in managing lands and fires.
"We realise indigenous groups are already practising good
peatland management, using their local wisdom," the agency's
deputy head Myrna Safitri told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
For instance, a long-held tradition by the Dayak tribe on
Borneo island dictates they cannot leave a place that has been
set on fire until the fire stops.
Fires are often started in the dry season by farmers to
clear their land quickly and cheaply to plant new harvests.
In other places, some tribes have already developed new ways
to avoid burning the land when they are preparing for the new
planting season, according to the official.
"We are really impressed. We hope with our recognition of
the indigenous people, that kind of knowledge sharing can be
expanded to other places," Safitri said.
Under an agreement with the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of
the Archipelago signed last week, the agency will promote such
practices and hope the tribespeople can inspire others.
The alliance is the umbrella group that represents some 50
million indigenous people in Indonesia.
"We hope it would be one of the effective ways to control
the fires at the grassroots level," Safitri said.
Indonesia has been criticised by neighbours and green groups
for failing to end the annual fires.
In 2015, dry weather caused by the El Nino phenomenon saw
one of the worst outbreaks of haze in years, with smoke
blanketing neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia for weeks and
drifting as far north as the Thai capital Bangkok.
The fires cost Indonesia $16 billion that year and left over
500,000 Indonesians suffering from respiratory ailments.
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Belinda
Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)