Forest fires are a common occurrence at this time of year in Northern Sumatra and regions including Riau and Jambi. This year, extreme wind patterns spread a thick haze from the fires that caused the PSI (pollution) levels in Singapore to rise to record breaking hazardous levels.
An article that featured in Mongabay has detailed the NASA technology that has mapped the areas in Sumatra where fires are burning. This data has revealed that a majority of fires are concentrated in deforested peatlands and scrub, rather than protected forests.
“The fires are burning in plantation forests where they may have been set purposely in rotation as a method of boosting crop production on oil palm plantations and timber plantations – a practice known as swidden – or slash-and-burn agriculture,” writes CIFOR’s Julie Mollins in a blog post.
Other speculation pointed the blame at illegal forest fires, set up by small and large logging, pulp and oil palm businesses to clear land. Regardless of who or what is to blame, the fires would not have become such a huge global issue had it not caused such huge health issues to neighbouring Singapore.
There has been much blame between the respective governments. Singapore officials demanded apologies and explanations, while an Indonesian Government spokesman publicly detailed the businesses from Singapore that owned the land in the burning regions.
Sumatra is home to an estimated 300 tigers, already critically endangered due to poaching & shrinking habitat. Laws preventing fires for agricultural use are poorly enforced for a variety of reasons, more stringent measures and stronger penalties need to be put in place in order to protect this vital habitat and the Sumatran tiger.