With forest fires choking South-East Asia, UN calls for strict enforcement of ban

30 August 2005

With large forest fires in South-East Asia, notably in Indonesia, causing serious health and environmental problems, including a choking haze, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called for strict enforcement of the ban against using fires for agricultural purposes.

With large forest fires in South-East Asia, notably in Indonesia, causing serious health and environmental problems, including a choking haze, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called for strict enforcement of the ban against using fires for agricultural purposes.

“Most of these fires are intentional and planned by agro-industrial companies to clear forests for agricultural land use,” FAO forest fire expert Mike Jurvelius said.

“Using fire to clear forests is prohibited in most of the South-East Asian countries and the ban should urgently be enforced. Instead, tree and vegetation residues should be better utilized, or destroyed mechanically to protect human health and the environment," he added.

Instead of burning forest residues, machines could be used for chipping wood and using it for compost, while precious wood could be used for wood products. Mechanical clearing of forest residues is more expensive, but more environmentally-friendly.

“There is a high demand for wood in the region; wood should therefore not be wasted or burned,” Mr. Jurvelius said.

In close collaboration with governments, FAO has started to prepare voluntary guidelines for fire management and the provision of financial resources for forestry agencies. Regional and sub-regional cooperation agreements on fire management have helped to reduce the impact of fires.

In South-East Asia, large-scale conversion of forests into agricultural land occurs mainly in flat areas with peat soils. Large amounts of smoke result from fires burning as much as 20 metres down in peat. These fires are almost impossible to extinguish, regardless of how many fire-fighting airplanes or helicopters are used. On a single hectare of land, up to 100,000 cubic metres of peat soil can burn.

“So long as people do not understand the dangers of using fires for land clearance on peat soils, the fight against forest fires will be very costly and have only limited success,” Mr. Jurvelius added.

 

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