Friday, July 8, 2011


          Jakarta, July 8, 2011 (ANTARA) - Haze has come back  on Sumatra and  Kalimantan Islands over the past few weeks, affecting the environment, the local inhabitants' health and air traffic.
         In fact, in March 2011, Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta had predicted that forest fires might occur in the dry season,  in June or July 2011, especially on Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands which are prone to forest and plantation fires.      

     Setting fire on forest or plantation areas in order to clear land in the dry season, could cause the fire to become out of control
    "Regional administrations, which areas are often hit by forest fires, should be cautious," State Environmental Affairs Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta said when opening a coordinating meeting on Sumatran eco-region in Palembang, South Sumatra, early March this year.  
     The minister had also urged the regional authorities, in cooperation with the agriculture service, to make sure that there would be no land clearing by using slash and burn method.
           Despite the minister's warning, however, Rokan Ilir district, Riau province, was blanketed by haze  recently as a result of forest and land fires in a number of areas in the province.
           Riau province's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said it had detected at least 36 hotspots in Sumatra on June 28, 2011.
           Of the total 36 hotspots, 28 hotspots were found in the districts of Siak, Kampar, Bengkalis, Indragiri Hulu, Kuantansingingi, Dumai city, Pelalawan  and Rokan Hilir, in Riau Province.
          In Dumai, a number of local Residents have begun to suffer from respiratory problems due to the haze.
            "At night, the air becomes choking. The smell of haze also stings. The haze seems to be very thick," Suhendra (32), a local resident, said in Dumai recently.
           Marjoko Santoso, head of the Dumai health service, has warned the public that the air quality in the region  has deteriorated due to haze containing excessive sulfur dioxide which is hazardous to human health.
         The Air Pollution Standard Index board owned by PT Chevron Pacific Indonesia (CPI) showed the pollutant standard index at 242 meaning a very dangerous level, he said on July 4.
         According to him, the air condition in Dumai has been very dangerous for people of all walks of life, especially  for those having respiratory problems.
         Those inhaling the haze could get blockage of blood cells, he said.  "If this condition continues, there is a possibility that it will claim one's live," he said.
         The Dumai health service plans to distribute 4,000 facemasks free of charge especially to pedestrians and motorists.  Every community health centers in Dumai will also get 500 facemasks for patients with respiratory problems.
          Many Dumai's residents have complained about haze entering their houses.   "We panic because even when we don't go out, the haze disturbs us," Bambang, a Dumai inhabitant, said.
           Due to the haze,  the authorities of  Pinang Kampai airport in Dumai had been forced to delay a flight for one hour on July 4.
          The flight of a Pelita Air plane chartered by PT Chevron Pacific Indonesia (CPI) and serving Dumai-Jakarta route was put off for one hour, Head of the Pinang Kampai Airport Irvan said.
          "The chartered plane was supposed to come in at 7.30 am WIB (Western Indonesian Standard Time). However, because  visibility was below 1,000 meters, it was ordered to postpone its arrival until 8.30 am WIB," he said.
           On the previous day  (July 3),  Pinang Kampai airport was also covered by thick haze forcing delays in several flights. The NOAA's Satellite 18 had detected five hotspots in Rokan Hilir District, and two in Bengkalis, Riau Province.
          The visibility fell to 500 meters, preventing any plane from being able to land at and take off from the airport.  
      Over the past week, tens of hectares of peat land had been gutted by fires at Medang Kampai, Dumai.
            "Until now, the local authorities and land owners have not tried to put out the fire. The fire is getting bigger,"  Sugianto, a local resident said in Dumai, on July 4.
            On Kalimantan Island,  haze from forest and plantation fires has forced the authorities of  Haji Asan airport in Sampit, East Kotawaringin District, Central Kalimantan province, to delay flights, over the past one week.
             "Due to the haze, plane arrivals and departures are often late," Head of Haji Asan Airport Maruli Tua Edison Saragih said in Sampit on July 7.
            He hoped that the haze would not get ticker in the future because it could endanger the flights.
            The East Kotawaringin district administration has set up a command post to deal with the forest and plantation fires.
          The command post involves various officers in the district, such as the environmental affairs office, the forestry office, the local fire brigade, the plantation and agriculture office, and police, according to Sanggol Lumban Gaol, an official of the East Kotawaringin district administration.
            Similar command posts will later be set up at all sub districts and villages in East Kotawaringin District.
            Head of the East Kotawaringin Fire Brigade Rusli said his office has put out 22 large-scale forest and plantation fires and 48 others at small scale over the past three weeks.
           He explained that the East Kotawaringin Fire Brigade has managed to extinguish just 40 percent of the forest and plantation fires occurring in the district, due to lack of equipment and personnel.
           Apart from affecting the people's health and air traffic, forest fires both in Kalimantan dan Sumatra have also threatened biological diversity, including endangered and protected animals such as orangutans and tigers.    
     "The orangutans are in grave danger of extinction due to degradation of their  habitats in East Kotawaringin. The habitats have decreased from year to year because of the forest conversion into oil palm plantations,"  Head of the East Kotawaringin Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) Ian Septiawan said in Sampit, on July 6.
         Forest and plantation fires, which occur almost every year, have threatened the existence of orangutans in the district, he said.
         Some orangutans have been caught and killed by local people because they had entered nearby villages to find food, and some others were burned in the forest fires, Ian said.  The rare animals have difficulty in finding food because their habitats are under pressure.  
     Most forest fires causing haze are actually triggered by plantation companies applying the cheapest method to open new plantation areas.
         In 1982-83 and 1994, forest fires in Indonesia had destroyed 6.4 million hectares of forests, especially in East Kalimantan.
          Indonesia'total forest area reaches around 130 million hectares, the world's third largest after Brazil and Congo.'  
      The government has promised to cut the number of hotspots by 20 percent per year to meet Indonesia's pledge to reduce its emissions by 26 percent by 2020.***4***
(T.F001/A/F001/A/A014) 08-07-2011 18:33:13

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