Fires twice as expensive as 2004 tsunami: World Bank

Indonesia is still paying the price for this year’s fires. Source: Flickr by mararie

Indonesia’s forest fires and the so-called haze it caused this year have cost the country “more than twice” the amount spent on reconstruction after the huge 2004 Aceh tsunami, the World Bank has announced. The bank said in its quarterly report that the fires had cost some 221tn Indonesian rupiah (US$15.72bn).

In contrast, it apparently cost US$7bn to rebuild Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh after it was engulfed 11 years ago by the giant tsunami, with the loss of tens of thousands of lives, the bank reported. 

“The economic impact of the fires has been immense,” said World Bank Indonesia country director Rodrigo Chaves.

Forest fires created a blanket of smoke over large swathes of Southeast Asia for months. 

It is a well-known phenomenon but this year’s haze was particularly intense. 

The World Bank said the fires cost 1.9 per cent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product. It added that regional and global costs would be far higher. 

Every year, Indonesia sees agricultural fires across the giant island of Sumatra and in parts of Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo. The fires are usually caused by slash-and-burn practices to clear land for palm oil and pulp wood plantations.

“This vast economic and environmental crisis is repeated year after year, as a few hundred businesses and a few thousand farmers seek to profit from land and plantation speculation practices, while tens of millions of Indonesians suffer health costs and economic disruptions,” the World Bank said.

Indonesia is expected to name the firms responsible for the fires this week. 

Jakarta said it would revoke the licences of businesses and individuals found burning land while threatening jail terms of up to 10 years. 

President Joko Widodo recently said it might take three years before the situation was under control. 

The World Bank announced in October that eight Indonesian provinces had burned more than 100,000 hectares each.

“Now is the time for Indonesia to address the underlying drivers of man-made fires, enforce laws and revise policies in order to reduce the risk of these economic disasters from recurring,” the bank said. 

The fires have had a particularly harmful impact on children and wildlife, including Indonesia’s population of rare orangutans.