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Fighting Peatland Fires in Central Kalimantan

Emergency Response, Prevention & Recovery

By: Borneo Nature Foundation

Huge peatland fires once again took hold of the island of Borneo in 2023. In scenes that are becoming all too familiar, a thick, poisonous smoke-haze blanketed Central Kalimantan for several months, as fires spread in drained and degraded peatlands after a long period of drought. These fires threatened protected forests, the orangutan population, and other biodiversity found within. At the Borneo Nature Foundation we use a year-round approach to minimise the risk and impact of fires, working to address their root causes. We build local capacity and coordination of firefighting units, support existing community firefighting teams and work with key stakeholders in the critical fire-prone regions within and surrounding the Sebangau National Park.

During 2023, we were supported by donors from around the world who helped us to manage the critical fire situation in Kalimantan, keeping firefighting teams active in the field, improving effective coordination with stakeholders and fighting the fires to protect the forest for 3 months virtually non-stop. These firefighting teams succeeded in preventing fires spreading into the interior forest of Sebangau National Park and are true conservation heroes.

Having witnessed first-hand the destruction caused by the last major fires in 2015 and 2019, the Borneo Nature Foundation responded by developing an Integrated Fire Management approach, increasing our efforts on fire prevention and working to tackle the leading causes of fires, investing resources and expertise on preparedness and response, and developing large-scale restoration initiatives; making sure we would be prepared for the next fire crisis.

Since then, we have continued to expand the network of firefighting teams and stakeholders, provided equipment, vehicles, training, emergency funding and helping integrate the teams together to ensure a highly coordinated approach. We have also increased local awareness amongst community groups, delivering education and outreach sessions for local children and adults, and supported the development of fire-free alternative livelihoods within local communities. We initiated and expanded our canal blocking programme to re-wet the peat and restore the forest’s natural fire resistance, and established community seedling nurseries and a major reforestation programme to reforest burntland.

When the time came to mobilise our firefighting and patrol teams, everyone was ready and attacked the fire hotspots early and intensively. Over 200 people including firefighting teams and community members joined the efforts, spending over 718 hours fighting 100 fires. The whole effort took three months to complete.

Overcoming the peatland fire crisis in Kalimantan will not be easy and will take many years of hard work together with all stakeholders, but the Borneo Nature Foundation is committed to develop long-term solutions that will set the foundation to protect the forest, people and wildlife in Central Kalimantan from the impacts of fire and smoke.

We would like to express our gratitude for the generosity of those who supported us in our emergency appeal, enabling us to ramp up our efforts from the business-as-usual patrols and preparedness, into a huge, coordinated emergency response, which was ultimately very successful. Without the help of our kind supporters, we simply could not have done what we did, and the impacts of the fires in our work areas could have been devastating.

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