Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's threat to dismiss Indonesian military and police officers who fail to prevent forest and peatland fires in their area has proved to be effective in reducing fire risks, experts said.
Jokowi launched the policy initially in 2016 and relaunched it last week to prevent toxic haze from forest fires from disturbing the upcoming 2018 Asian Games in August and September.
The Games will be held during the dry season, when forest and peatland fires are at their peak.
"According to our calculation, the dry season will start in August this year," Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) spokesman Hary Djatmiko told the Jakarta Globe over the phone on Wednesday (14/02).
Hary said the dry season this year should stay at a "normal level."
Thousands of athletes and officials from Asian countries are scheduled to take part in 462 events at 40 sports venues in Jakarta and Palembang in South Sumatra from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2.
In 2015, Sumatra and Kalimantan experienced devastating fires due to a prolonged dry season caused by an especially strong El Niño effect.
More than a million hectares of land and forest were destroyed and dozens of people were killed.
South Sumatra had one of the highest number of fire hotspots that year.
Jokowi's administration started to pay more attention on protecting forests and peatlands after the country was condemned by the international community for spreading toxic fire haze to its neighboring countries during the 2015 dry spell.
So two years before the country will hosts Asia’s biggest sporting event, the president said he will dismiss military and police officers who fail to help local officials prevent forest and peatland fires in their area.
Herry Purnomo, a professor at Bogor Institute of Agriculture and a researcher from the Center for International Forestry Research (Cifor), said Jokowi’s threat has proved to be quite effective in reducing the number of forest fires since 2015.
"The threat worked because a lot of the fires were deliberately lit by local residents who colluded with security officers. Now the police and the military don't want to be in on it anymore," Herry told the Jakarta Globe over the phone.
According to Cifor, people who used to burn off lands for farming do not do so anymore because they are now afraid they will be rounded up by the police and the military.
"Also, they have found other ways of clearing land with assistance and incentives from the government and private companies," Herry said.
Major companies have also started to comply more with the government's sustainability regulations to avoid penalties, he said.
But Herry said Jokowi’s stern approach might have less impact on local political elites.
"These local elites routinely occupy land illegally, up to 50-100 hectares, and they're not afraid of the police since they have a lot of political clout," Herry said.
Djati Witjaksono, a spokesman from the Environment and Forestry Ministry, said it has ordered its fire brigade, the Manggala Agni, to make preparations to put out forest and peatland fires once the dry season starts.
"At the moment, none of our provinces has declared a forest fire emergency," Djati told the Jakarta Globe.