Budget cuts caused by the coronavirus crisis have forced Indonesia to reduce fire patrols and protection for some of the world’s most important forests, the environment ministry said recently.
Indonesia’s forests are some of the biggest in the world. They are home to more than a tenth of the world’s mammal species and nearly a fifth of its birds. And the cuts come ahead of the worst season for fires.
Indonesia is also the world’s top producer of palm oil. Fires, often set to clear land for palm oil plantations, were very damaging in 2019.
It is still too early in the dry season, when most land is cleared, to get a clear picture of what will happen this year. But a careful study of satellite information shows about 400,000 hectares were cleared in the first 24 weeks of 2020. In the same time period last year, 300,000 hectares were cleared.
FILE - Trees and peatland are pictured during a fire in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan province, Indonesia, September 17, 2019.
Environmental officials said that the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the country’s economy. Nearly $50 billion is being sent to health emergency programs. This led to a 50 percent budget cut for the team that finds and puts out fires. At the same time, people who lost their jobs during the health crisis are clearing land for crops using fires. And in some areas, social distancing rules are making it harder to fight fires.
President Joko Widodo called for the tough enforcement of laws in order to stop illegal fires. And the environment and forest minister told parliament recently that an extra $35 million was needed to fight forest fires this year.
Environmentalists agreed the budget cuts could have bad results.
“There is a real risk of another ecological and health disaster in 2020,” said Kiki Taufik, head of Greenpeace Southeast Asia Forest campaign.
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Words in This Story
patrol -- n. a group of people, vehicles, etc., that go through an area to make sure that it is safe : a group that patrols an area
mammal -- n. a type of animal that feeds milk to its young and that usually has hair or fur covering most of its skin
species – n. biology : a group of animals or plants that are similar and can produce young animals or plants : a group of related animals or plants that is smaller than a genus
plantation – n. a large area of land especially in a hot part of the world where crops (such as cotton) are grown
ecological – adj. relating to the relationships between a group of living things and their environment