Tue, 07 Nov 2006
Amy Chew reporting from Jakarta

THE massive fires from Indonesian peatland have resulted in the country being ranked the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

It is ranked behind the United States, China and Russia, according to a report by international environmental groups.

Indonesia is calculated to release two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum, mostly from the burning of peatland, which is responsible for the choking haze that blankets the region during the dry season.

"Most of Indonesia’s carbon dioxide emissions come from the burning of peat lands, unlike the United States, China and Russia where their carbon dioxide emissions are largely from the burning of fossil fuel," Nyoman Suryadiputra, technical director from Wetlands International Indonesia said.

He said Indonesia’s carbon dioxide emission from fossil fuel burning was "insignificant", and in that respect, the country ranked 21st in the world.

The emission of carbon dioxide has been blamed for global warming, which is projected to increase droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

Green activists have noted that the dry seasons have become longer, and have called for the clearing of land by burning to stop. They have also called on the government to rehabilitate and protect the country’s 21 million hectares of peat land.

Soil from peat land contains carbon, which was accumulated 3,000 to 25,000 years ago.

In its natural form, peatland is logged with water, but as the country opens up land for agriculture, timber plantations and timber concessions, water is drained from peatlands, rendering the soil highly combustible.

In addition, draining water from peat also results in oxidation, adding to the release of carbon dioxide.

"If we can stop the burning of peatland, we can cut carbon dioxide emissions by 70 per cent in Indonesia. We should make restoring water to peat land the number one priority," said Nyoman.

Wetlands International Indonesia is working to rehabilitate peatland in Central Kalimantan, where one million hectares of land was almost stripped bare during ex-president Suharto’s rule, under his scheme to turn the land into a mega rice field and make the country self-sufficient in rice.

The plan failed and now, stripped bare by illegal logging and shifting cultivation, the land is a tinder-box for fire during the dry seasons, as happened this year.

"We have been restoring water to the peatlands by jamming the canals with logs to retain as much water as possible since 2003," said Nyoman.

The programme is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency.



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