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Cablegate: Indonesia - Haze Problem Continues

VZCZCXRO6645
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHJA #1216/01 2541023
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 111023Z SEP 06
FM AMEMBASSY JAKARTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9811
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHKL/AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR 2103

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 JAKARTA 011216

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/IET, OES/IET, AND OES/ETC
AID for ANE/TS Mary Melnyk

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV KTIA TPHY TBIO ID
SUBJECT: INDONESIA - HAZE PROBLEM CONTINUES

REF: A) 05 JAKARTA 10673 B) 05 JAKARTA 09022
C) 06 JAKARTA 10043

1. (SBU) Summary. After surging again at the end of
August, the number of forest fires burning in Sumatra and
Kalimantan declined in the first week of September. The
drop seems to be due in large part to central government
pressure on local authorities and plantations to curb
burning in advance of the President Yudhoyono's September 4-
5 trip to Singapore. Nevertheless, the number of fires
burning remains high and efforts to implement a permanent
solution to the haze problem remain limited. End summary.

High Level of Haze Production Continues in August
--------------------------------------------- ----

2. (U) As our colleagues in Malaysia are aware, the haze
generated from fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan worsened
during the final week of August, with hotspots in Kalimantan
and Sumatra reaching 2,718 and 690, respectively, on August
25, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) satellite data. Air quality and
visibility in Sumatra, Kalimantan, and the surrounding areas
continued to deteriorate as a result of the haze, disrupting
shipping and aviation in the area, and prompting an increase
in respiratory ailments among local residents. The haze
also continues to affect neighboring countries. Air quality
in the nearby Malaysian town of Kuching reached 157
particles per million (ppm) in late August. (Experts
consider a reading over 100 ppm to be unhealthy.)

3. (SBU) Although shifting cultivation practices by small
farmers contribute to the burning, many outside observers
believe plantation clearing is largely to blame. According
to the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), roughly
81 percent of the hotspots detected by satellite sensors
since 2001 were in areas belonging to private plantations.
A number of observers have told us plantation owners often
pay small farmers to clear plantation land in order to
distance themselves from the activity.

4. (SBU) Early September data revealed a decline in the
number of hotspots in Sumatra and Kalimantan, although the
level remained significant. As of September 5, there were
1,374 hotspots recorded in Kalimantan and 354 hotspots
recorded in Sumatra. An increase in rainfall and
significant pressure from the central government to stop new
burning prior to President Yudhoyono's September 4-5 visit
to Singapore, one of many neighboring countries that
complained recently about the export of haze, seem to have
contributed to the decline.

5. (U) More recently, September 10 NOAA data revealed a
continued decline in the number of hotspots in Kalimantan
and a significant increase in the number of hotspots in
Sumatra. The number of hotspots on September 10 in
Kalimantan and Sumatra reached 635 and 1,172, respectively.
The increase in hotspots in Sumatra was due to both new
fires and the hot, dry weather in the region that
significantly raised land surface temperatures. NOAA
satellites interpret any land area with a surface
temperature exceeding 42 degrees Celsius as a hotspot.

Recent Increase in Preventive Actions Largely Cosmetic
--------------------------------------------- ---------

6. (SBU) In addition to putting pressure on local
government leaders to tackle the haze problem, the
Government of Indonesia (GOI) has stepped up fire fighting
efforts in recent weeks, including using helicopters to drop
water bombs and seeding clouds to induce rainfall in
affected areas. In addition, local authorities recently
arrested a group of small farmers suspected of setting
fires. While these steps contributed marginally to the
reduction in the number of hotspots, they are unlikely to
make a permanent dent in the haze problem.

7. (SBU) Comment. The haze problem persists in Indonesia
in large part due to the local political influence of
plantation owners, who produce significant amounts of tax
revenue and jobs in the affected areas. As a result,
plantation owners in Sumatra and Kalimantan are very often
able to clear land cheaply through burning while escaping
serious punishment. Unless the economic incentive for local
authorities to avoid prosecuting plantation owners changes,
haze production is likely to continue at high levels in the
years to come.


JAKARTA 00011216 002 OF 002


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