Extensive forest fires clearly seen from space / NASA
Indonesia is a land of superlatives. Stretching along thousands of miles of the equator and wedged between the Asian mainland and Australia, the archipelago consists of a staggering 17,500 islands, only 6,000 of which are inhabited.
With a population of 240 million people from some 300 ethnic groups, it is the world’s fourth most populous country and its flora and fauna are just as diverse. Indonesia boasts 25% of the world’s known species of fish, 12% of all mammal species, 10% of all flowering species, and 17% of all known birds.
But Indonesia’s problems are as towering as its natural richness. There are some 150 active volcanoes spread among the islands and in September 2009, the latest tremor spread death and destruction to parts of Sumatra, killing several hundred people.
Indonesia’s forests are the most extensive in the world after the Amazon basin in Latin America and the Congo basin in Africa, but in recent years they have also become one of the world’s major climate change and environmental headaches.
While global warming is normally associated with gas-guzzling vehicles in the United States or belching power plants in China, the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases, Indonesia is in the No. 3 spot, principally because of vast forest fires caused by illegal logging, burgeoning local populations and the spread of agriculture, particularly vast plantations of oil palm trees.
JICA has provided some US $300 million as part of a climate program loan and activities including teaching fire fighting techniques / JICA file photo
The fires are so huge they are easily visible from hundreds of miles out in space. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that in a five-year period alone earlier this millennium an area the size of Portugal was destroyed, threatening everything from wildlife, to fisheries to the long-term well being of local communities.
The negative impact spreads far beyond Indonesia itself. Like the Amazon and Congo basins, the Indonesian rainforests yield not only a bounty in natural resources but act as a massive absorption ‘sink’—taking in and neutralizing CO2 emissions from around the world – a vital function also now under threat.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has worked closely with Indonesia for years on many types of development projects and sending rescue workers, medical staff and emergency supplies to areas struck by natural disasters, as it did for the recent earthquake.
In its first, and most ambitious climate change program loan, JICA in 2008 allocated the equivalent of around US$300 million for a series of initiatives to bolster Indonesia’s own national action plan on climate change. The government announced last year that out of 45 policy targets, 35 had been reached while progress had been made in nine others. JICA experts have advised on many of these programs, but the battle has only just begun.
Illegal logging is decimating Indonesia's forests / JICA file photoA
Preventing forest fire, or spotting them early and reducing their spread, is a key component of the agency’s activities. More than a decade ago JICA introduced satellite technology to provide an ‘early warning’ system for fires. On the ground, Japanese experts have assisted in fire prevention activities for nearly two decades and currently are helping to develop new guidelines which will be distributed to and implemented by local communities.
Experts and local forest fire brigades hold seminars to teach local communities the latest fire prevention techniques, encourage village participation in fire-fighting activities based on long-established procedures developed in Japan and emphasizing the negative economic, social and safety impact of fires on their communities and the wider environment.
JICA and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) are developing a system to exploit the natural advantages of stretches of peat-soil rainforest, particularly the underground water present, to alleviate the threat of forest fires.
Indonesian officials regularly attend advanced training courses on fire management and prevention techniques in Japan.
Indonesia has some of the world's most extensive geothermal reserves which the government is increasingly developing / JICA file photo
Climate Change Impact
JICA’s activities in Indonesia cover a far greater range of activities than simply providing expertise and financial assistance to directly tackle climate change. Other projects include what officials describe as ‘mitigating’ the effects of climate change or ‘adapting’ to the changing conditions.
On Java Island, the 320-kilometer-long Brantas river basin covers 12,000 square kilometers and is both a blessing and a curse for the local population. The waters are the lifeblood of local agriculture but the river is also subject to frequent and unpredictable flooding.
Three times since the 1970s, JICA has helped to develop new master plans for the region to cope with changing weather conditions and more are en route. Experts predict rainfall patterns will continue to change in coming decades, triggering both more serious flooding and more prolonged droughts and necessitating the need to constantly review and update development projects.
Already JICA has implemented projects to more effectively utilize water resources, control erosion and improve both irrigation systems and power generation through yen loans. The agency developed an early warning flood control system and has provided agricultural equipment and fertilizer.
Now, the government, utilizing JICA expertise, has embarked on a more ambitious overall water resource management project involving multiple local governments and local communities working together to draw up a single master plan involving both upstream and downstream river basins.
“It has become essential that all the various organizations and communities to work cooperatively to both control and manage the various water resources,” according to JICA expert Yokito Sugimura. “It is key that governments and regional communities work closely together.”
Another approach to reducing the impact of climate change is development of alternate, clean energy resources. Indonesia has the world’s largest reserves of geothermal energy, but currently has developed only three percent of that capacity. Further development is both risky and enormously expensive, but the government has set a target of providing five percent of the country’s overall energy needs from geothermal sources by 2025.
JICA has provided yen loan funding for the construction of geothermal plants and developed master plans in 2006 and 2007. Last year it conducted an updated survey, established a test drilling fund and outlined several proposals including incorporating the private sector more fully into future geothermal expansion.