The forest fires in Indonesia 1997-98: Possible causes and pervasive consequences

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The recent (September 1997 to June 1998) forest fires in Indonesia represent an unprecedented ecological disaster. The pre-condition for rampant burning was a prolonged drought triggered by the El Nino, but prevailing land use and land management conditions were such that a disaster of this kind was inevitable. The humid-tropical nation has little experience of dry weather, and people adhere to deeply-ingrained fire-using habits. Fire has long been used as a cheap means for land clearance by farmers and by plantation and forestry-concession owners. Hundreds of hotspots flared up within a short period, with marked clustering in Kalimantan and Sumatra. Some 1.5 million ba have been burnt, including valuable protected areas. The remoteness of the locations and lack of resources, organisation and expertise combined to make fire control impossible, and the smoke soon spread to neighbouring countries, bringing health problems and heavy economic losses. Ecological damage includes disruption of ecosystem functions and habitats, the decimation of plant and animal life, including endangered species, and irreparable losses in biodiversity. Given the institutional obstacles and recent economic decline in Indonesia, the prognosis is not an optimistic one. Copyright © 1999 Geographical Association.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-260
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1999


Jim, C. Y. (1999). The forest fires in Indonesia 1997-98: Possible causes and pervasive consequences. Geography, 84(3), 251-260.


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