It was the third day of 15th International Peat Congress in Kuching, Malaysia. Just as the previous day there were five concurrent sessions with different themes running simultaneously. One of the today’s themes was on Peat Forest-Wildfire-Impact on Environment and Society where peat fire and haze are among the ‘hot’ topics that could not be left out from the congress.
Fires and repeated fires episodes that are mostly happening in Indonesia are mainly due to the land use change of peatlands especially for plantations. This has attracted global concern where several initiatives have been taken in order to prevent the horrific fire and haze episodes in 2015 at Central Kalimantan from happening again. There are increasing studies being done to enhance the understanding and accuracy of tropical peat fire events by improving the method of collecting peat fire data. One of the initiatives developed is a strategy called ‘Fire Free Village’ program where community in the vicinity of forest were engaged to monitor and prevent the fire occurrence. Studies have shown that, it is vital to involve local communities in the decision making process in order for the fire preventing strategy to be more effective.
Apart from that, another new system called TET-FireBIRD was developed to detect low temperature fire such as peat fire. It is helpful as the system able to detect the peat fire which is smouldering under the ground. In terms of policy at ASEAN level, ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze pollution (ATHP) and the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy (APMS) are the on-going efforts being done to address peat fire and haze issues. All the ASEAN countries have ratified the ATHP including finally Indonesia. The Indonesian government has announced that they need at least three more years (within the time frame set by APMS) to reduce the fire and haze episodes.
The reliance of the local and global communities on Peat Swamp Forest —
The communities in Mukah who live closely to the peat swamp forest are dependent, directly or indirectly on the peat swamp forest for their livelihood. The outcomes of the survey which was carried out with the villagers who live along the fringe of peat forest have shown that the peat swamp forest is important for the generation of income through fish production, wildlife products, sago and also supply of water. Other than that, it was also found that it has eco-tourism potential through fishing activities, wildlife sighting and outdoor endeavours in natural forest settings. Peat swamp forest is not only beneficial for the local communities in Mukah but also at international level which can benefit the global community due to its ability of storing carbon or carbon sequestration. Therefore they strongly urged the conservation of peat swamp forest, because it will help to safeguard the sustainability of the resources in the long run.
From the perspective of biodiversity, several presenters have shown that peat swamp ecosystem support a substantial number of rare, specialised and threatened species. More and more newly discovered species were recorded yet has disappeared due to the peat fires. Some of the peatland endemics and specialists were found only in small remaining forest patches that seemed very vulnerable to fire. It is likely that some of the newly discovered species have become extinct due to the fires in 2015, some species even before they could be described and named.