Forest fires have become a perennial phenomenon in Indonesia. Last year’s fires, which were the worst in 20 years, incurred huge losses for the Indonesian economy – the World Bank says that the economic cost of the fires exceeded USD 16 billion. The human cost was just as high as the fires and haze disrupted daily lives, prevented children from going to school and worsened respiratory and other ailments.
Many GAR/PT SMART employees in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia were affected by the haze. This is why we continue to channel resources into fire prevention. An important focus for us now is to find long-term solutions to these forest fires which have become such a feature of the annual dry season.
“It’s a priority for all of us, not only businesses, but also the local government and all relevant agencies, to use our best efforts to protect our communities from the harm that land and forest fires could do,” said Susanto Yang, the CEO of Sinar Mas Plantation, West Kalimantan.
Fire prevention through community outreach and collaboration
The Desa Siaga Api programme is one of our main initiatives. It involves increased outreach and collaboration with the local communities to jointly address forest fires and haze. GAR/PT SMART is helping to train and equip firefighting teams in the village so that they can prevent and suppress fires rapidly. Another key component of the programme involves raising awareness within the community about the hazards of fires and advocating land clearing methods that do not use fire. At the end of the dry season, the villages participating in the programme are assessed on how effectively they have prevented or suppressed fires and those who do well qualify for CSR support in the form of community infrastructure projects. So far, 17 villages in Jambi and West Kalimantan are participating in the programme.
Training villagers to rapidly suppress fires
Using the latest technology to monitor fires
As part of its existing fire management protocol, GAR/PT SMART ensures that fire-fighting equipment such as pumps, fire trucks and water tanks are ready, available and in good working condition.
Besides standard firefighting equipment, we have also invested in the latest technology and is deploying drones around the plantations. The drones together with increased satellite surveillance will enable faster detection and confirmation of fires and therefore faster response by our Emergency Response teams. Putting out fires quickly is critical in controlling how far those fires spread and minimising their damage.
Using drones to monitor plantations for fires
GAR/PT SMART has also built towers to monitor the surrounding areas for signs of fire; prepared reservoirs; and water canals in peat areas so that the peat does not dry out and combust. Last but most certainly not least, over 10,000 personnel have been trained to prevent and suppress fires. These Emergency Response personnel are found across all our plantations and are on standby to be deployed in the event of a fire.
No one wants to see a repeat of last year’s fires. Through a combination of fire preparedness and community programmes like Desa Siaga Api, we hope to minimise and prevent fires this year and every year thereafter.