| JAKARTA, March 24
JAKARTA, March 24 Forest fires and haze have
become so bad in northern Sumatra that a Indonesian pulp and
paper company held partly responsible by green groups has
declared itself as a casualty, saying the environmental
catastrophe was costing it millions of dollars.
Criticism of palm oil plantation owners and companies like
Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), Asia's
second-largest pulp and paper firm, intensified after
Indonesia's Riau province declared a state of emergency in late
A study released earlier this month by World Resources
Institute (WRI) found that 36 percent of fires in Sumatra from
Feb. 20 to March 12, were in pulpwood plantation areas.
The think tank said the concessions with the highest share
of fire alerts include many that are affiliated with APRIL and
rival Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP).
"We are the victim of this entire situation," APRIL's
president Praveen Singhavi told Reuters, estimating the cost to
the company was between $5-6 million.
Singhavi said the illegal burning was largely the fault of
small-holders using slash and burn methods, and fires in APRIL's
concessions were in areas overlapping or disputed with local
communities. An unusually early start to the dry season had
exacerbated the fire risk, he added.
The APRIL president advocated a combined effort from
corporate, government and local communities to tackle the forest
fires and haze.
In its report WRI said: "Under Indonesian law, the companies
do bear responsibility for fires on their land, even if they did
not start the fires. Fires are symptoms of longstanding poor
forest and land management."
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had to apologise to
neighbours Singapore and Malaysia in mid-2013, when those
countries were blanketed with thick smog from forest fires in
Both palm and pulp and paper companies have been criticised
by green groups for not doing enough to stop the annual haze
problem or the rampant deforestation and destruction of
carbon-rich peatlands in Indonesia.
APRIL, an unlisted company, owns plantations covering around
460,000 hectares, and according to its president it operates a
strict 'no-burn' policy.
Earlier this month, the firm suspended forestry operations
on an island off Sumatra and transferred 130 staff to fire lines
to protect its plantations. It has deployed its own 600-strong
fire-fighting team, helicopters and pumping equipment to tackle
the fires, and said on its website that it had lost 400 hectares
since January to illegal burning.
Rival APP has said it would stop using timber from
Indonesia's natural forests and only use trees from plantations.
In January, APRIL also launched new sustainability policies
that will halt plantation expansion by the end of this year and
only use supplies from its own plantations by 2019.
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)