Peatland fires in eastern Sumatra, Indonesia, in recent weeks are again creating thick haze in the region, closing schools, canceling flights, and leading to the arrests of farmers accused of lighting the fires.
For now, the weather is keeping the smoke away from neighboring Singapore and Malaysia, where in June 2013 wind-blown haze from Sumatran fires caused record-high levels of air pollution. Last year’s crisis produced international headlines and quick responses from governments: High-level regional talks in September led to a proposed transboundary haze monitoring system, and earlier this month, Singapore drafted a bill that would allow it to fine companies for fires that take place on Sumatran plantations. The return of fires this month, however, has illustrated the need for long-term, holistic solutions to the haze issue.
To that end, a workshop held in January in Jakarta was the first major step toward a research program to better understand the drivers of the fires, to spur greater collaboration among Indonesian and regional stakeholders at all levels, and to untie the knot of policies and regulations that govern land use and fire protection in Indonesia. The workshop, hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), drew more than 50 people — including researchers, government officials, and leaders from communities, civil society and the private sector, among others. CIFOR has extensively studied fires in Indonesia’s tropical forests, in particular the 1997 crisis and the 2013 fires.