Category Archives: Indonesia

Illegal logger turns firefighter to defend Indonesia’s peatlands

Setiono Ono stands with equipment to help extinguish small fires at the office of the Rawa Mekar Jaya community fire organisation on September 1, 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Harry Jacques

SIAK, Indonesia, – Setiono Ono pauses his morning wildfire patrol near the northeastern coast of Sumatra island at a small timber dam between a logged area and an oil palm plantation.

Water the colour of charcoal is leaking out from the dam along a narrow canal cut to drain the surrounding peatland.

The dam, built by the local community here in the Siak regency of Riau province, is one of thousands of canal barriers constructed in recent years to protect Indonesia’s peatlands, seen as critical in the fight against climate change.

“We need to fix this,” said fire patrol leader Setiono, 40, before heading into the patchy forest with two other volunteers.

Peat accounts for about 3% of the world’s land surface, but peatlands store more carbon than all other terrestrial vegetation combined, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

When peatlands burn, they release carbon into the atmosphere, accounting for almost 6% of the annual carbon dioxide emissions fuelling global warming, the IUCN says.

Indonesia is home to more than a third of the world’s tropical peat, giving it a key role in safeguarding the carbon-rich ecosystem.

But in recent decades, its peatlands – 10 metres (33 ft) deep in places – have experienced rapid conversion into valuable commercial plantations to meet rising international demand for palm oil, pulp and paper.

That has helped lift small farmers out of poverty but also brought urgent environmental and public health risks.

Plantation trees fare poorly in drenched soil, so companies have dug thousands of kilometres of canals to drain off water.

But dissecting the landscape with these canals has dried it out and increased peatland fires, which smoulder underground for long periods and can often be doused only by heavy rain.

The threat is highest when climate patterns prolong Sumatra’s main dry season beyond September, as in 2015 and 2019.

In 2015, fires burned about 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of land in Indonesia, an area 20 times larger than Los Angeles, about a third of it peat.

But in Setiono’s village, there have been no fires since 2017 – which many here attribute to the former illegal logger.

After leaving middle school as a teenager, Setiono spent almost a decade of his youth cutting down trees and dodging tigers and police in the peat forest he now looks after.

He suffered frequent injuries and was hospitalised after a chainsaw slipped and tore through his thigh. Eleven other illegal loggers he knew were jailed.

He guesses he felled more than 100 trees in the forest near the leaking dam.

“For me this is strong motivation,” said Setiono. “The bottom line is that I used to destroy nature.”

COMMUNITY SHIELD

Setiono now heads the Masyarakat Peduli Api (MPA), or “Fire Care Community”, for Rawa Mekar Jaya, a village on the north coast of Siak about 150 km (93 miles) west of Singapore.

Community fire initiatives began in Indonesia under pilot schemes in the early 2000s, before the government formally established the MPA programme in 2009.

At the peak of the 2015 fire crisis, state firefighters worked morning to night as power lines burned and schools closed for a month under a blanket of toxic haze.

“Everyone had respiratory infections, coughs, breathing difficulties,” Setiono told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A study by Harvard and Columbia universities indicated the 2015 air pollution could have caused 100,000 premature deaths.

Setiono heard about the community fire prevention programme that year and travelled to Pekanbaru, the provincial capital, for a month’s basic training.

Five years on, he has built one of Riau’s largest village fire brigades, with no dedicated funding.

Donated fire hoses and generators are stacked ready in a garden shed next to his red-brick bungalow.

Other equipment is stored a short drive away at the fire brigade’s office, surrounded by dark sumps and pineapple plants.

MPA members keep bees, using proceeds from honey sales to fund the community organisation.

“If there is a fire and smoke enters this village, then our children could become asthmatic,” said MPA volunteer and father-of-two Suroso Lilik, 37.

The group convenes every morning to check on the 16,800-hectare area it is responsible for.

Its 25 volunteers work in shifts, patrolling the river on a small barge and traversing degraded fields on foot.

“Our village is ours,” said Setiono. “If we don’t (do this), who else is there?”

https://news.trust.org/item/20201016070657-sjncd/

Cash payments to cut poverty in Indonesian villages help forests too

Sumbanese villagers work on a field seeding peanuts in Hamba Praing village, Kanatang district, East Sumba Regency, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, February 23, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

KUALA LUMPUR, – A social protection scheme to help poor Indonesians living in rural areas by giving them cash also reduced deforestation by 30%, researchers said on Friday, fuelling hope that efforts to tackle poverty and protect forests can work in tandem.

The study analysed Indonesia’s national anti-poverty programme – which transfers money to poor households that follow health and education guidelines – looking at about 7,500 forest villages that received money from 2008 to 2012.

“No matter which way we looked at it, the anti-poverty programme on average leads to reduction in deforestation in the villages receiving it,” said study co-author Paul Ferraro, a professor of human behaviour and public policy at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Over the last two decades, Indonesia managed to cut its poverty rate by more than half to just under 10% of its 260 million population in 2019, according to the World Bank.

The Southeast Asian nation, which is home to the world’s third-largest tropical forests, is also the top global producer of palm oil – which generates millions of jobs but is blamed by environmentalists for forest loss and fires.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous nation, was named as one of the top three countries for rainforest loss in 2019, according to data published this month by Global Forest Watch, a monitoring service that uses satellites.

The new study on Indonesia, published in the journal Science Advances, looked at data on tree-cover loss for villages near forests, before and after the welfare programme began.

Cash-based schemes to tackle poverty are becoming increasingly popular in developing countries, with 16 tropical nations having adopted such methods, Ferraro noted.

The Indonesian programme – still being phased in across the archipelago – makes “modest” quarterly cash payments equating to about 15-20% of recipients’ household consumption, he said.

The 266,533 households analysed for the study were located in the 15 provinces that make up half of Indonesia’s forest cover and account for about 80% of its deforestation.

Researchers found that farmers in these villages typically cleared forest to plant more crops if they expected low yields, due to delays in the monsoon season or prolonged drought.

But when given cash payments, they switched to buying from markets rather than clearing forest, or were able to take out loans using the government handout as a guarantee, said Ferraro.

Before scaling up such cash schemes worldwide, Ferraro urged more research on their environmental benefits.

A separate study in Mexico, using different methods, found a small rise in deforestation as locals may have used the cash to keep more cattle, clearing forest for grazing, he noted.

“We’re not going to solve the rainforest problems with a conditional cash transfer programme,” he said.

“(But) it provides space for these two groups – the anti-poverty and pro-environment groups – to be more collaborative.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20200612171610-gro26/

Indonesian Buddhist woman’s blasphemy conviction upheld

Indonesia photoSibarani said there was insufficient evidence against Meiliana to warrant a custodial sentence [Antara Foto/Irsan Mulyadi via Reuters]

Medan, Indonesia – Indonesia’s Supreme Court has upheld an 18-month jail sentence for a 44-year-old Buddhist woman convicted last year on blasphemy charges.

Meiliana’s conviction last August stemmed from a complaint filed after she was accused of making remarks against mosque loudspeakers in the city of Tanjung Balai in North Sumatra nearly three years ago.

Her lawyer Ranto Sibarani said that his client was a “victim of a hoax,” denying she made those remarks.

“There is no evidence that she committed blasphemy. This hoax spread in the course of a week and ruined a woman’s life in the process,” Sibarani told Al Jazeera.

“Today’s decision is very dangerous because in the future it means that people can spread false information which will lead to wrongful convictions under the blasphemy law.”

The case is based on an incident on July 22, 2016 when Meiliana, an ethnic Chinese-Buddhist resident of Medan, purportedly made a complaint to her neighbour, Kasini, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name.

Kasini claimed that Meiliana asked for the azan, the Islamic call to prayer, to be turned down at the local al-Mashum mosque. Her version has been disputed and the ensuing blasphemy conviction widely criticised byhuman rights groups, including Amnesty International Indonesia.

In the days and weeks that followed the initial incident, comments were widely shared on social media stating that Meiliana, a mother of four, had tried to stop the mosque from broadcasting the call to prayer.

A mob in Tanjung Balai set fire to Meiliana’s front lawn while two of her four children were inside her home. They escaped with the help of a Muslim pedicab driver who happened to be passing at the time.

Members of the mob were then called as witnesses at the trial which took place in Medan District Court between June and August last year.

Sibarani said there was insufficient evidence against Meiliana to warrant a custodial sentence.

“The hoax was legitimised by the court. The judge allowed a statement letter to be submitted as evidence by three witnesses outside Meiliana’s house,” he said.

“They claimed she told them the prayer call hurt her ears while a gang confronted her and pelted her home with rocks and bottles. Yet there is no evidence that this conversation ever happened and the statement letter was written six months after the incident.”

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population but it also is home to sizeable numbers of Buddhist and Christian minorities.

The alleged remarks also kicked off some of the worst race riots since the fall of Suharto in 1998. At least 11 Buddhist temples were torched in Tanjung Balai, where Buddhists number around 11,000 out of 185,000 residents.

There has been widespread criticism of Indonesia’s blasphemy law, which in recent years has been wielded against minority groups including the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.

Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison for insulting Islam following comments he made about a verse from the Quran in 2016.

According to Sibarani, Meiliana’s legal team are now considering their final legal options.

“We believe that video evidence of the discussion outside Meiliana’s home exists and we plan to use it to file a judicial review,” he said. “If this case is not followed up then it means that anyone can now file a statement letter to a judge accusing someone of blasphemy without having to prove it.”

“This case shows that there is no legal certainty in Indonesia any more.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/indonesian-buddhist-woman-blasphemy-conviction-upheld-190408100321754.html

Pope Francis asks for prayers for Indonesia after deadly tsunami

Indonesia Tsunami photoOfficials look through the wreckage of damaged buildings in Carita, Indonesia on December 23, 2018. Credit: AFP/Getty Images.

By Courtney Grogan

Vatican City, (CNA/EWTN News). After a deadly tsunami struck Indonesia Saturday night, killing more than 200 people and injuring hundreds more, Pope Francis has asked for everyone to join him in prayer for the suffering victims this Christmas.

“My thoughts go out right now to the populations of Indonesia, affected by violent natural disasters, which have caused serious losses in human lives, numerous people missing and homeless, and extensive material damage,” Pope Francis said after his Angelus prayer Dec. 23.

“I invite everyone to join me in prayer for the victims and their loved ones,” he said, calling for solidarity and support from the international community.

The tsunami left at least 222 people dead and more than 840 injured, according to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho from Indonesia’s disaster management agency.

Researchers suspect the destructive waves were triggered by a volcanic eruption in the Sunda Strait between two Indonesian islands.

Pope Francis expressed his wish to be “spiritually close” to the displaced and “to all the people who are imploring God for relief in their suffering.”

The pope reflected on the importance of families being together at Christmas, but said he understood that “many people do not have this possibility, for different reasons.”

To people apart from their families at Christmas, Pope Francis extended an invitation to find a “true family” in the Catholic Church.

“Our heavenly Father does not forget you and does not abandon you. If you are a Christian, I wish you to find in the Church a true family, where you can experience the warmth of fraternal love,” he said.

Francis stressed that the doors of the Catholic community are open to Christians and non-Christians alike this Christmas. “Jesus is born for everyone and gives everyone the love of God,” he said.

The pope encouraged people preparing for Christmas to fix their gaze on Mary, who spent her months of waiting for Christ’s coming in service to her elderly relative, Elizabeth.

“The Gospel of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth prepares us to live Christmas well, communicating to us the dynamism of faith and charity,” Pope Francis said.

“A dynamism full of joy, as seen in the meeting between the two mothers, which is all a hymn of joyous exultation in the Lord, who does great things with the little ones who trust Him,” he continued.

May the Virgin Mary obtain for us the grace of living a Christmas centered, not on ourselves, but on Jesus and our brothers and sisters in need, Pope Francis prayed.
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-asks-for-prayers-for-indonesia-after-deadly-tsunami-83102