KUALA LUMPUR: In the thick of the recent haze that enveloped the nation for more than a month, the Malaysian government had
suggested to Indonesia that tube wells be introduced to tackle peat fires.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak relayed this idea to Indonesian president Joko Widodo in Bogor, on Oct 10.
So how does the tube well helps in preventing peat fires in Sumatera and Kalimantan in Indonesia, and subsequently the haze?
HOW TUBE WELL WORKS?
The tube well is a type of water well in which a long wide stainless steel tube or pipe is bored into an underground aquifer.
Geologist Dr.S.Paramananthan told Bernama that in most peat areas there were one or two aquifers, namely the one near to the surface within a depth of 10m and the other one between 30m to 40m deep.
The installation of the tube well is also relatively simple.
For the 10m aquifer, the tube just have to be pushed down into the earth and an electrical pump is needed to pump out the water.
Whereas for the deeper aquifer drilling is often required to install the tube but pump might not be necessary because the undergound water pressure will push the water to the surface.
The cost for a tube well is generally around USD350 (RM1,500), affordable for a plantation company.
Paramananthan disclosed that two Malaysian plantation companies have successfully tapped underground water in Kalimantan earlier this month using this method.
He said the tube wells were proven successful in preventing peat fires from spreading into the plantations.
HOW TUBE WELLS CAN HELP WITH THIS CURRENT SITUATION
Ideally the tube well should be used as a preventive measure.
“What should have been done is that at the end of the rainy season, you have the tube well ready and just let the water come out to wet your land and your vegetation to prevent the fire,” said the founder of Param Agricultural Soil Surveys.
Nevertheless, he believes that tube wells could still play a role in curbing the ongoing peat fire in Indonesia.
He said the firefighting team in Indonesia should start controlling the fire from the outside, creating firebreaks by water-bombing at the edge of the fire.
Then the tube wells can be placed there to confine the fire.
“The water will rise to the surface, which would completely cover the peat layer ensuring that the burning will totally stop.
“Then they can reduce the parameter. The effort of putting out the fire should be from the edge of the fire then work slowly towards the inside,” said Paramananthan.
PEAT LAND FIRES ARE MORE SEVERE
It is important to note that only 40 per cent of the fire that is occurring now in Indonesia are in peat areas.
Another 60 per cent is in the hill land, which the use of tube well is not effective.
However fire in the hill land is slightly easier to be put out compared with the peat soil.
This is due to the high composition of organic matter in the peat soil that makes it easily combustible. The soil can continuously burn for months during the dry season if not checked properly. The El Nino phenomenon has made the conditions difficult in fighting the peat fire.
“Even if you channel water on the top and the fire stops, the bottom layer will still be burning. After sometime the fire on the surface will reignite.
“It can go on even for a long time, until you have enough rain or water to put off the fire completely,” quipped Paramananthan.
Another critical factor to consider is that merely three per cent of forest fire cases were committed by plantation companies, often before planting. No estate manager will burn his/her own estate after having planted it with oil palm.
Most were carried out by smallholders who could not afford to open vast tracts of land due to the high cost and as such they resorted to forest burning to open up new land.
“You cannot tell them not to plant. These farmers are very poor. For them it is their sustenance,” sympathised Paramananthan.
He suggested that the big estates help the smallholders to clear forest in a safer way and build drains around their lands to keep fire contained.
The government should also take proactive measures by installing tube wells in the peat swamp forests before the slash and burn activities begin.
“ASEAN neighbours must stop the blame game and help one another. Let us cooperate and use science to solve the problem and not to be emotional,” concluded the 75-year old scientist. -BERNAMA