Fire management in Indonesia seems to have become 'donor-dominated', with many overlapping and redundant activities. In response to the most recent fires, some 35 studies and projects have been proposed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), World Resources Institute (WRI) and IUCN, among others. Four continuing long-term projects have been initiated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), European Union (EU), the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ) and the International Tropical Timber organisation (ITTO). While some of these conferences, workshops and reports are necessary, many fail to add value and stimulate activity to address the real problems and underlying causes of the fires in Indonesia.
The process of fire management in -Indonesia - and elsewhere - should be turned on its head. The first step should be for Governments, agencies and civil society to define their prevention and fire fighting needs and design projects to address those needs; only then should funding be sought from donors. Too often, needs are being defined or dictated from the outside - according to the priorities of the donors and international organisations, however well-meaning. Donor contributions should build on existing experience to achieve practical results and improvements at the field level, supply appropriate equipment, and train crews. The key to controlling forest fires is to devote more energy to spreading the prevention message. An effective prevention stimulates the understanding that it makes sense to improve fire-fighting capacity. Every time the onset of the rainy season extinguishes the forest fires, the public profile of the issue wanes, and politics goes back to business as usual - thus preparing the ground for renewed fires during the next dry spell. Improving the focus on prevention in Asia will increase the likelihood that forest fires do not leave the political radar screen, and that a longer-lasting solution to the destructive combination of human and contextual triggers is found.
The opportunity presented by the transition to a democratic regime in Indonesia is significant. There is great potential for addressing the social conflicts underlying the fires and for reviewing the roles and -responsibilities of government agencies in light of a new government's policy platform. This chance should be grasped by government and civil society, and strongly encouraged by all external actors as part of the solution to this burning issue.
Peter Moore is Director of Metis Associates in Killara, Australia and was the Coordinator of Project FireFight South East Asia.
Effendy Sumardja is WCPA - SEA Vice Chair and Deputy for Law Enforcement and Environmental Impact Assessment in the Agency for Environmental Impact Management (Bapedal).
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