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Indonesia forest fires surge, stoking global warming fears

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Indonesia forest fires surge, stoking global warming fears

PEKANBARU, INDONESIA (AFP) – The number of blazes in Indonesia‘s rainforests has jumped sharply, satellite data showed on Thursday (Sept 12), spreading haze across South-east Asia and adding to concerns about the impact of increasing wildfire outbreaks worldwide on global warming.

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Illegal blazes to clear land for agricultural plantations have been raging on Sumatra and Borneo islands, with Indonesia deploying water-bombing helicopters and thousands of security forces to tackle them.

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It is just the latest such outbreak worldwide – huge blazes have torn through the Amazon in South America while bushfires are sweeping across eastern Australia in an unusually ferocious and early start to the wildfire season.

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Indonesia‘s forest fires are an annual problem but have been worsened this year by particularly dry weather, and in recent days sent toxic haze floating over Malaysia and triggered a diplomatic row.

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The number of “hot spots” – areas of intense heat detected by satellite, which indicate a high chance of fire – jumped sharply in Indonesia on Wednesday, according to the Singapore-based Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre.

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There were 1,619 hot spots detected on the Indonesian part of Borneo and Sumatra, up from 861 a day earlier, according to a tally from the centre, which monitors forest fires and smog outbreaks

Mr Kiki Taufik, a forests campaigner with Greenpeace in Indonesia, told AFP there has been little rain in the past fortnight, particularly on Indonesian Borneo, which saw the sharpest increase in hot spots

Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei

BURNING ISSUE Mr Taufik saw similarities between the blazes in Indonesia and those in the Amazon, where farmers also start fires to clear land for agriculture

  Related Story Indonesian provinces of Riau and Jambi shut schools due to haze caused by peatland fires   Related Story Haze in region gets worse as hot spots rise   Related Story Indonesia says it’s not to blame for Malaysian haze   Related Story Malaysia to commence cloud-seeding to combat haze, Indonesian denies fires in Sumatra are the cause “This should remind people we are facing a climate crisis,” he said of the recent fires around the world. “Industries are looking to expand plantations using fires.”

And he warned Indonesia‘s fires would add to the sprawling archipelago’s climate-damaging emissions, already among the highest in the world

In 2015, Indonesia suffered its worst forest fires for almost two decades, which dramatically increased its greenhouse gas emissions

Diplomatic tensions were also rising as Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin accused her Indonesian counterpart of being “in denial”, after Jakarta insisted fires in Malaysia had caused the haze there

“Let the data speak for itself,” she said in a Facebook post, indicating figures from the Asean centre which showed only a handful of hot spots in Malaysia compared to the hundreds in Indonesia

Indonesian Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar hit back on Wednesday, telling AFP that “hot spots are not only found in Indonesia, but also in Sarawak (on Malaysian Borneo) and peninsular Malaysia

“We are not standing idly by,” she added

Indonesian security forces have been struggling to tame the blazes as many burn underground in carbon-rich peat, which has been cleared across vast areas of Indonesia for plantations

After being cleared and drained of water, peat is highly combustible and hard to extinguish once ablaze

There have been some outbreaks of fire in the Malaysian part of Borneo. Drone footage taken by AFP in the area showed smoke rising from charcoal grey patches of smouldering earth, surrounded by pristine forest