Update COVID-19 in Indonesia: 1,298,608 confirmed infections, 35,014 deaths (23 February 2021)
23 February 2021 (closed)
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A year ago - between June and October 2015 - severe man-made forest fires on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan released some 11.3 million tons of carbon per day, caused Indonesia to experience damages estimated at 1.9 percent of GDP (World Bank estimate), and spread toxic haze to other parts of Southeast Asia. Not only its regional neighbors but most of the world directed its anger at Indonesian authorities that failed to combat the fires, and more importantly, failed to uphold laws that forbid the slash-and-burn practice.
Alarmingly, over the past week more and more news stories are surfacing that inform about the renewed high risk of forest fires on Sumatra during the traditional "forest fire season". The Indonesian Agency for Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics (BMKG) stated that it has detected some 173 hotspots scattered across ten provinces on the island of Sumatra that have a high potential to turn into forest fires. Reportedly, in Aceh a choking haze led to the temporary closure of at least one school, while hundreds of people have fallen ill with acute respiratory infections. In several Sumatran provinces water bombing operations are ongoing.
Local palm oil and pulp & paper companies or farmers still use the traditional burn-and-slash method to clear land (in a cheap way) to make room for plantations. Meanwhile, rain cannot prevent the spread of these fires at the peat-lands in the ongoing dry season. It remains highly problematic that the majority of the Indonesian population has a very low awareness of the importance of correct environmentally sustainable practices or behavior. Furthermore, due to Indonesia's notoriously weak law enforcement, those who commit illegal acts can usually avoid prosecution.
In 2015, a severe El Nino weather phenomenon brought drier-than-usual weather to Indonesia (and Southeast Asia) that exacerbated the spread of forest fires. This year, a strong La Nina weather phenomenon is expected to occur in the last quarter of the year, bringing wetter-than-usual weather to Indonesia. Indonesia's dry season typically lasts until October.