Call to Action: Crowdsourcing to Fight Indonesia’s Fires


Watch the video above to see Jane’s message about the fires in Indonesia.

Indonesia continues to experience dangerous forest fires across the country, with over 100,000 active fires detected in 2015. The fires have been raging since September and are now releasing more emissions daily than the entire U.S. economy. In the past three weeks alone, Indonesia has produced more carbon dioxide than Germany does in an entire year. People and animals are at risk, with one-third of the world’s remaining orangutan population in peril.

Dr. Jane Goodall and her fellow Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) ambassadors issued a joint statement last month calling on Indonesian authorities to immediately ban the use of fire to clear land if those responsible cannot implement sustainable practices. Dr. Goodall also joined with 30 global leaders to narrate Stop The Burning, presented last week at COP21, which urges world leaders and civil society alike to take action to save Indonesia’s forests, animals and people. Dr. Goodall and her peers worry about the impact that the fires place on people, orangutans and the environment for the century to come.

Fires are common in Indonesia where people use the slash and burn technique to clearcut forests, often for palm oil plantations. But the country is on track to experience more fires in 2015 than in 2006, one of its worst years on record, because of an unusually long dry season and El Niño. Even national parks are not safe, with fires in them linked to illegal land clearing for agriculture. In short, the current crisis in Indonesia is largely manmade.

Two million hectares of forest and peatland have burned since July, and photos show new oil palm seedlings planted on freshly burned land in central Kalimantan. There are no palm oil concessions in the area, indicating intentional illegal burning.

The most intense fires in Indonesia are burning in tropical peatlands, which store more carbon than most other places on Earth. A tropical peatland fire can produce emissions that affect global warming at rates nearly 200 times greater than fire on other land, making the current crisis in Indonesia one of the most significant environmental disasters of the 21st century. It has contributed to half a million cases of respiratory infections in people and will cost the Indonesian government over 30 billion USD.

As the forests burn, orangutans are fleeing for the safety of villages. One mother and her infant were attacked by frightened villagers, but International Animal Rescue (IAR) intervened to provide protection and medical support to the duo. The apes were released into a forest reserve and are being monitored. Villagers have agreed to call IAR if future orangutans enter the village. Dr. Goodall and her fellow GRASP ambassadors explain in their statement that rescue workers working to relocate and rehabilitate orangutans at risk by the fires put their life on the lines for the cause.

With six provinces declaring states of emergency, the Indonesian authorities are leveraging the technology of crowd-sourced data used by Global Forest Watch to charge those responsible for the illegal land fires. Authorities already arrested over 127 individuals and 10 corporations connected to the recent surge in fires. While the world worries about the livelihoods of Indonesia’s people and wildlife as the fires burn on with no signs of slowing, environmental activists are encouraged to see this response from Indonesian authorities not tolerating illegal land burning.

People from around the globe can join in the fight to stop these illegal activities and protect Indonesia’s forests. Global Forest Watch Fires provides the best data for authorities on where forest fires present threats, but it takes a huge amount of time for one person to analyze the massive DigitalGlobe satellite images used to identify fires and burn marks. Individuals from around the world can now speed up the effort, though. They are clicking onto the Tomnod crowdsourcing website which houses the DigitalGlobe satellite imagery and they are analyzing images to improve the Global Forest Watch Fires database.

Stemming the fires is necessary for the welfare of Indonesia’s people and orangutans. By leveraging the same technology that JGI uses to monitor habitat health in Africa, Global Forest Watch, people around the world can aid Indonesian authorities in apprehending those responsible for the fires, saving the country’s forests and protecting its people, wildlife and future sustainability.

About Author

Pamela Huber is an intern for the Jane Goodall Institute working primarily in the organization's communications department. As a journalist, she has written on the environment and human rights before writing for Good For All News. She is interested in community-centered conservation, technology, ape research and rehabilitation, preserving biodiversity and youth education.