Karhutla (Kebakaran Hutan dan Lahan) or Wildfire is a disaster that often occurs in Indonesia, especially on Sumatra Island and Borneo Island. Because of this, Indonesia lost a lot of its precious forest, flora, and fauna. The smoke of the wildfire is also disturbing, particularly for our respiratory system. People breath a significant amount of carbon dioxide, thus they are prone to get upper respiratory tract infection. In addition, the visibility is also affected significantly, for people cannot see further than 50 meter or within that range. This definitely affects the outdoor activities, which are very dependent on the visibility. So, why do wildfires often occur in Indonesia? What is the root of the problem? Why do disasters often occur on those two specific islands? How does Indonesia deal with this problem?
First, we have to understand how the wildfire is commonly caused. There are two predominant causes of wildfire, nature and humans. On the natural aspect, the disaster can occur with other natural disasters, such as drought combined with thunder storm or volcano eruption, as the drought could dry the leaves in the jungle and turn it into flammable material. On the human side, this disaster can be divided in two, unintentionally and intentionally. People who camp and forget to put out the bonfire or someone throws their leftover cigarettes can cause a wildfire. However, that is less frequent compared to the intentional wildfire. Some companies who want to open a field for their business usually clear the jungle by setting it on fire. Although the alternative is chopping down the trees, it is more expensive than burning the jungle.
In Indonesia, especially on Sumatra Island and Kalimantan Island, the cause of the wildfire mostly comes from the companies which want to open coconut oil and the other industrial plantations. In 2019, Ex- Indonesia Police Chief, Tito Karnavian, surveyed the location where the wildfire occurred with the head of BNPB (National disaster management agency) and commander of the TNI (Indonesia Military Force). He found something which made him confused; the coconut oil plantations and the other industrial plantations were not burned with the rest of the nearby forest. Vividly, the wildfire did not occur naturally. In the same year, there were 185 suspected people who committed arson and 4 companies which were linked with the disaster. Furthermore, tracking down the people who caused the disaster is difficult, for the individual perpetrators act in small groups, or even alone. Whereas for the big companies, they could bribe the authorities to free them from any charge.
In addition, the natural conditions make the fire easily spread yet hard to suppress. Forest in Sumatra Island has special soil. Most of the forests in Sumatra Island and Kalimantan Island are on the top thick peatland. Peat itself has a unique characteristic. When this type of soil is dried because of the heat outside, the fire can go deeply into the root of a plant and spread the fire below the ground surface. This makes the visibility of the fire source even harder to be spotted because the smog cannot penetrate the solid soil, for the thickness of this soil is about 10 meters. The firefighters would not be able to put out those fires with the conventional way such as water bombing or hosing the fire with multiple fire extinguishers.
With those mentioned problems, how does Indonesia deal with that? Constitutionally, there is a law regarding intentionally causing the wildfire. According to Article 78 Paragraph 3 of Law 41/1999, anyone who dares cause the wildfire will be charged with 15 years in prison and be fined for 5 billion Rupiah (3.460.000 US Dollar). Unfortunately, enforcement of the law is not as good as expected yet. Thus it becomes an evergoing issue, which the government is still working on.
To deal with the underground fire, some methods have been conducted. According to the Coordinator of Karhutla Prevention Pekanbaru, the extinguishing is done by watering the deep of the peat soil. The coordinator said that method is effective to put out the fire. Another method is separating the bush from the peat soil. That way, the fire won’t spread further into another area.
In conclusion, there are some factors that make Indonesia vulnerable to wildfire. On one hand, there are some perpetrators and big companies who ignite it. On the other hand, nature itself makes the disasters even worse. However, the fighting against wildfire is still waging in Indonesia until today.