Indonesia is set to lose its forests, scientists warn

Written by By Ashton Soto, CNN

Wildfires in Indonesia may have sent its forests into a downward spiral last month.

According to an international study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature Communications, more than 12 million hectares of land in Indonesia was “already damaged or significantly degraded” by land clearing in 2017.

It’s an alarming statistic: the study found that this area has now reached a point that “is likely to lead to forest degradation, warming and rainfall extremes for many years to come.”

And, in typical post-fire fashion, the extent of the damage wasn’t contained to just a few hotspots.

“We estimate that forest has been lost (already) on a significant scale across the country,” lead researcher Mukti Takian, a forest ecologist at the University of Cambridge in the UK, told CNN in an email.

If recent trends continue, he said, the world may lose 10% of its current forests by 2050.

Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan are considered key areas in this global hotspot. (Credit: ANAND SINYATHI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Could the fires be linked to the worst food security crisis in decades?

Takian said climate change was likely a major factor in the reason behind the fires, as Indonesia is expected to experience a year that is warmer and drier than usual in 2018.

Indonesia — an island in Southeast Asia — suffered numerous deadly wildfires in 2016 and 2017. The 2017 event caused billions of dollars in damage to the region’s forests and other resources, resulting in one of the worst food security crises in decades.

This year, there were likely more forest fires with smaller flames and less burning of large swathes of the country, according to Takian, who said his analysis showed that record rainfall in October and November 2017 delayed the fire-related harm in some areas.

However, he said, the faster-moving wildfires in February had caused much higher levels of damage. “Most forest land in Indonesia is at high-risk for further tree loss and other losses,” he said.

Indonesia, an island in Southeast Asia, suffered numerous deadly wildfires in 2016 and 2017. (Credit: Kayuyat Sutarto/AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Takian added that he hoped the study’s findings would help to “lead to longer-term reforestation in regions affected by fires, and mitigate the massive loss of valuable forests from the wild.”

Fire comes to the world’s largest city

CNN recently reported on the final stages of the most-destruction caused by wildfires in Singapore’s history, with around 15,000 homes and office buildings set ablaze.

The blaze, which began in February 2018, was one of the biggest the city-state has ever experienced, burning 32,000 hectares of land, 13 million gallons of water and parts of nine of Singapore’s major highways.

The National Environment Agency in Singapore has estimated the total economic loss caused by the fires to be around $137 million, according to CNN affiliate Channel NewsAsia.

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