July 29, 2009
Fidelis E. Satriastanti The Jakarta Globe
As the haze from burning forests and plantations continues to choke Riau, nongovernmental organizations are pointing the finger at the Sinar Mas Group and urging it to take immediate action to deal with the disaster, an environmentalist said on Tuesday.
“[Sinar Mas] and its associated companies should take their legal responsibility as license holders seriously and prevent such fires on their concessions, regardless who caused the fires,” said Susanto Kurniawan of Jikalahari.
An analysis carried out by a local coalition of NGOs called Eyes on the Forest shows that 4,782 fire hotspots occurred in Riau in the first six months of 2009 and that nearly one-quarter of those fires were found within concessions affiliated with Sinar Mas Group’s Asia Pulp and Paper Company, including within a conservation reserve set up by the group.
The Sinar Mas and the pulp and paper company received a conservation achievement award for designating the Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu forest as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. However, data shows that of the fires originating in Sinar Mas connected concessions, many of them are actually in the original GSK forest block.
Biosphere reserves are conservation areas created to protect the biological and cultural diversity of a region while promoting sustainable economic development.
“Whether through fires, draining peatlands or forest clearance in its wood-sourcing concessions, Sinar Mas Group companies are the single biggest contributors to the destruction of natural forest and peat soil in the ecosystem where the Biosphere Reserve was established,” said Nursamsu of WWF-Indonesia.
Meanwhile, Hariansyah Usman of Walhi Riau, said the forests were often cleared without proper licensing and sometimes inside provincial protection areas.
“We call on the government to reopen the findings of the recently terminated illegal logging investigation. We also call on the government to take legal action against companies that start fires,” said Hariansyah, adding that 13 cases of illegal logging by pulp and paper companies were dropped by police in 2008.
Meanwhile, Nurul Huda, a spokesman for Sinar Mas Group, said the claims made by the NGOs were not true and needed to be proven.
“It’s absurd, we did suspect a few hotspots in our areas, however, after we checked them for real, they turned out to be nothing,” he said adding that if there were hotspots, the company’s fire fighters would have taken the necessary steps to put them out.
Concerning the conservation areas, he said that the company would never cut down trees or carry out burning in those areas because they were part of the company’s conservation efforts.