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The Tripa Swamp (Rawa Tripa) is one of the 3 largest tropical peatlands on the island of Sumatra. Since the early 1990s, the swamp area has been sharply reduced due to illegal land clearing, mostly on what used to be healthy peatland. As of 2016, only 30% of the original 60,000 hectares of peatland remains intact.
This habitat – overlooked and undervalued – covers less than 3% of the land surface of the Earth, but contains twice as much carbon as the world’s forests. Far from the hostile, barren wastelands that peatlands are often seen as, these stunning landscapes provide irreplaceable ecosystem services.
Dry peat is very flammable, especially during the dry season. A single spark is all that is needed to create a massive and uncontrollable blaze, thanks to the amount of carbon this land stores. This spark is usually due to illegal land opening.
Peatland covers less than 3% of the global land surface, however it is estimated that it contains twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests and 4 times as much carbon as the atmosphere.
That makes this country the 4th largest peatland reservoir in the world.
Opening peatland for farming purposes, without burning, is no easy feat and has not been embraced by most farmers. Burning is the favored method because it is both easy and cheap. However this method carries the risk of sparking fires on the already flammable peatland, which can easily spread to other areas.
Every time peatland is burned for farming, the quality and thickness of the peat decreases. This is not sustainable for farming as the deeper layers of peatland are less ideal for growing crops.
Pak Asmawi now prefers to operate his farm without burning, and believes that composting plants is the better method for fertilizing his land.
Land clearing without burning is a great example of improved practices that need to be continued and taken up by other farmers. Pak Asmawi hopes more farmers will embrace this non-destructive method for the sake of Menangai Hulu residents.
The severe thickness of the smoke from the fires disrupted her school activities. She was then a second year student at her local junior high.
Whereas most city students might feel happy when class is dismissed, the students of Mentangai Hilir had nothing to celebrate. They had no choice but to stay at home, as the smoke limited visibility to just 1 meter. Playing outdoors was not an option.
“The day felt like night time and it was painful and hot to breathe, ” reminisced Lely.
Lely remembered being bored as she was confined at home. Eventually she fell behind on her lessons, with no extra classes to cover for the missing school days.
She hopes peatlands will be managed more sustainably for future generations.
Ibu Deti is but one of the many sufferers of URTI (Upper Respiratory Tract Infection) caused by smoke inhalation resulting from the fires. URTI is one of the leading causes of infant mortality in the world.
“My chest felt like worms were crawling inside and my heart was full of mucus” Ibu Deti mentioned as she described her URTI. Her X-ray result clearly showed white spots in her lungs, indications of smoke inhalation.
Due to the contagious nature of URTI, she was forced to isolate herself from her family. She had to keep her distance from her three children: Yunita (18), Wahyuni (13), and Saipul (5) for a year. She felt fortunate that her children pushed her to stick to her treatments until she was fully cured.
Ibu Deti was one of the 500,000 URTI patients in 2015.
“I sincerely hope peatland fires like in 2015 will never happen again. Your chest hurts from inhaling toxic smoke,” said Ibu Dety.
...we can now convince the international community that Indonesia is very serious about restoring degraded forest and peatland.”
Peat has a strong correlation with the probability of fires… [With] the support from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, along with the direction from our President together with the Peatland Restoration Agency, we will intensify the construction of canal blocks because of their high impact in preventing fires.”
The President said that fires such as those in 2015 should not occur again. We have to reduce the incidence to zero if possible. The key is that peatlands must not catch fire. Therefore, drained peat should be rewetted. And it is the Peatland Restoration Agency’s task to revitalize the hydrological and ecological functions of peatlands.”