Rabu, 19 Juni 2013

SUMATRA STRUGGLING AGAINST FOREST, PEATLAND FIRES by Fardah

    Jakarta, June 19, 2013 (Antara) - Forest, bush and peatland fires hit Indonesia's major islands particularly Sumatra and Kalimantan almost every year, but it is not easy to deal with the fires which some are deliberately set to clear land for cultivation.
        During this year's dry season, with an exception of Java Island which is partly still experiencing rains almost every day, forest, bush and peatland fires have been reported across Sumatra Island.
        The fires have produced thick haze covering several Sumatran cities such as Pekanbaru and Dumai (Riau Province) and Batam (Riau Island Province). Indonesia's neighboring countries - Malaysia and Singapore - have also claimed that Sumatra's haze has blanketed some of their areas.

         Based on the monitoring by the US NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) satellite, NOAA-18, there were 187 hot spots of forest and peatland fires across Sumatra on June 19, 2013, and 148 of them were in Riau Province.
         The Pekanbaru Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG)'s forecaster on duty, Ardhitama, said in Pekanbaru, Riau Province, that the hot spots were detected across 10 districts and cities in Riau, namely in the districts of Pelalawan (20 hot spots), Rokan Hilir (32), Kampar (seven), Kuantan Sengingi (one), Siak (1), Bengkalis (21), Idnragiri Hulu (eight), Indragiri Hilir (18), Rokan Hulu (23), and Dumai (one).
           The number of the hot spots in Riau increased to 148 from 106 on the previous day, indicating that the forest and plantation fires in the province have spread to wider area, he said.
          On June 17, 2013, the number of hot spots across Sumatra was 138 hot spots, an increase from 83 hot spots on the previous day. On the next day, June 18, the number drastically decreased to 39. But, NOAA reported that it again jumped to 187 on the next day (June 19).
          The hot spots produced thick haze that reduced the visibility to 1,000-1,500 in Batam,  Head of the Hang Nadim meteorological, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG) Philip Mustamu said in Batam on June 17, 2013. 
     "The visibility is very limited. All vehicle users should be careful, although in general it is still safe for flight," Mustamu said.
          The number of fire hot spots in Sumatra increased and the wind blew toward Batam and other areas in Riau Islands Province, he stated. The haze would disappear only when rains fall, he said.
         A number of motorcyclists in Batam and Pekanbaru complained about the haze because it hurt their eyes. "The smoke is very thick and hurts my eyes," Martua, a motorcyclist, said in Batam.
         Ganda Wibowo, 23, a Pekanbaru resident, said the haze has caused eye irritation and respiratory problem. "The haze is horrible. It has been quite thick since in the morning," he added.
        The haze even forced Dumai city's airport in Riau province to cancel two flights on June 19, 2013.  "Visibility at the airport currently is below 1,000 meters. Therefore we are cancelling two flights today namely from Sky Aviation and Pelita Air," the airport management's spokesman, Catur Hargowo, said.
        The haze from Sumatra's fires has reportedly also affected Singapore and Malaysia, which share border with Indonesia.
        Channel NewsAsia reported on June 18, 2013 that Singapore's air quality remained in the unhealthy range as the island nation continued to be enveloped in haze.
         Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said his ministry has been in touch with the Indonesian authorities to register Singapore's concern and to renew its offer of assistance.
         Strait Times online reported the haze that shrouded Singapore on June 17 was the worst in 16 years, and is expected to last for most of this week.
         Malaysia has also been affected by the haze problem. On June 17, 2013, the Malaysian pollutant index showed unhealthy levels of between 102 and 121 in parts of the states of Pahang, Terengganu and Malacca. In the capital Kuala Lumpur, the sky was also hazy with a reading of 82 at midday.
         The Indonesian forestry ministry said firefighters were already tackling the blazes and water-dropping aircraft would be deployed if local governors made a request.
         In Riau Province,  around 550 hectares of three-meter-deep peat land in Sepahat and Pelintun have been on fire since last weekend.
         The authorities have deployed four teams of the forest fire and rescue brigade called "Manggala Agni" to block peat land fires and to prevent them  from spreading to wider area.
         "We could only try to block the fires and prevent them from spreading to a wider area. It is very difficult to extinguish the fires because there are so many obstacles in the fire locations," Isbanu, the head of the fire control unit of the Riau Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said in Pekanbaru on June 19.
         Two fire brigade teams have been deployed in Sepahat (Bengkalis District) and Pelintung (Dumai City) to control the peat land fires.
         The other two teams have been instructed to anticipate possible fires in conservation areas.
         The teams being assigned in Sepahat and Pelintung have been assisted by personnel from local NGO, "Masyarakat Peduli Api (MPA), local fire brigades  and companies.
         However, there is still not enough people to deal with the peat land fires, which are more difficult to be put out because they are hidden and spreading underground.
        "We are just trying to control the fire. If the fire could spread up to 50 hectares per day, we could reduce it to around 30 hectares a day," Isbanu said.
         The dry season has worsened the fires and hampered the efforts to control the blaze.  "The peat land fires could only be put out by rains. However, the weather now is very dry and the wind blows quite strongly," he said.
          According to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) study on the haze problem published in 2001, peat land fires can be more difficult than other forest blazes to extinguish because they can "go deep underground and can burn uncontrolled and unseen in the peat deposits for several months."
    Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said in Batam on June 19, 2013, that those intentionally set fires in forest or peat land areas must be punished because they polluted the environment and sent haze to other regions, including the two neighboring countries.
         He said that burning forests to clear land for plantation was an irresponsible act and therefore it is punishable.
          Indonesia's forest area reaches over 130 million hectares, the world`s third largest after Brazil and Congo. In 1982-83 and 1994, El Nino-induced forest fires had destroyed around 6.4 million hectares of forest, especially in East Kalimantan.
         In addition to natural factors such as drought, forest and plantation fires are also caused by human factor, particularly companies and farmers who clear forests for plantation and farming areas.
          Slash-and-burn farming is prohibited during the dry season. According Indonesia's Law No. 41/1999 on Forestry and Law No.23/1997, violators could face up to 12 years in prison.
         Despite the ban, however, every year some local farmers and plantation companies use the slash-and-burn method because it is considered to be the most effective and least expensive method to clear land. ***4***
(f001/H-YH)

   
     
(T.F001/A/F. Assegaf/A/Yosep) 19-06-2013 18:47:12

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