The study investigates the changing political ecology of catastrophic regional fires in Indonesia over approximately the past 15 years, with particular attention to the devastating fires in 1997-98. The specific focus is on the changing relationships between the political-economic, ecological, and meteorological phenomena which, together, have caused or exacerbated a series of catastrophic regional fires in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) and elsewhere in Indonesia. Implications of these changes, at multiple spatial scales and institutional levels, for land and forest use, regional planning, and reform of national policy on land development and natural resource tenure, use, and development will be examined. The research is framed within regional political ecology approaches, and case studies will be conducted addressing the political-economic causes of wildfires; decisions to clear vegetation by burning under high-risk conditions; uses of fire in resource conflicts; ambiguity concerning intentional versus accidental fire; socially differentiated effects of the fires, and institutional responses to them. Current and historical policy and planning documents, interviews, news and research reports, and other sources will provide information to analyze shifting debates about fires in Indonesia, and about appropriate action to prevent future wildfire disasters.
The research provides insight into the vulnerability of marginalized rural people, communities, and parts of community landscapes to the impacts of catastrophic fires. It will analyze interpretations underpinning long-term policy and emergency responses to past fires, and action to reduce risks of future fires, by local communities, government bodies, organizations in civil society, businesses, and researchers. Results of this study will contribute to better understanding of the rationale underlying practices that have led to catastrophic fires, and may contribute to reform of land and resource development policies, and recognition of local communities' resource rights and management practices.