Thursday, October 4, 2012


       Indonesia is currently experiencing drought, particularly in Lampung, Banten, West Java, Central Java, Yogyakarta, East Java, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), East Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT) and West Papua, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBN).

       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 to 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 use the slash-and-burn method because it is considered to be the most effective and least expensive method to clear land.

During the period from January to early August 2012, a total of 15,392 hotspots were found in Indonesia, according to the Agency for Study and Application of Technology (BPPT).

Environmental Affairs Minister Balthasar Kambuaya had warned earlier that the numbers of forest fires were likely to increase if the dry weather persists and would intensify because of the El Nino climate phenomenon that started in September this year.

On Sumatra Island, at least 138 hotspots of forest and plantation fires were detected by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites on October 1, 2012.

Sumatra is currently experiencing dry weather, with temperatures reaching up to 31 degrees Celsius.

"Of the total number of hotpsots, 38 hotspots were found in Riau Province, 11 in West Sumatra and four in North Sumatra," Sanya Gautami, an analyst of the Pekanbaru meteorological, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG) in Riau Province, said.

Gautami predicted that the number of hotspots on Sumatra Island might increase further due to the dry season.

The maximum hotspots were found in South Sumatra, notably 67, and the rest were spread across Jambi (5), Bengkulu (5), Lampung (8), Bangka Belitung (8) and Riau Island Province (2).

In Riau Province, the 38 hotspots were found in eight districts/cities, namely in Rokan Hulu (1), Rokan Hilir (1), Dumai (2), Meranti (3), Kampar (2), Pelalawan (7), Kuantan Singingi (2) and Indragiri Hilir (10).

In Palembang, South Sumatra, a thick blanket of fog has covered the city over the past few days because of forest fires caused by land clearing activities in nearby districts.

"The thick fog has happened due to land clearing activities, which have led to forest fires in the Ogan Ilir, Ogan Komering Ilir and Muara Enim districts," a spokesman from South Sumatra`s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), Indra Purnama, said.

A total of 681 hot spots were detected on Sumatra Island in July 2012, with South Sumatra and Riau having 227 and 205 hotspots, respectively.

In Jambi, central Sumatra, thick smoke from forest and bush fires has disrupted flight schedule.

"One can see only as far as 1,000 meters ahead at the Sultan Thaha Syaifuddin airport as against a safe distance of 2,000 meters" Alzog, the Sultan Thaha Syaifuddin airport operation manager, said in Jambi recently.

"An aircraft supposed to land at the airport this morning had to return to Jakarta," he added.

Forest and bush fires in Jambi over the past several months have burned down 1,300 hectares of forest area, according to Trisiswo, the chief of Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) for Jambi.

"1,000 hectares were destroyed by forest fires in the Muarojambi district. 300 hectares of land were burned down in the national parks of Berban (TNB) and Bukit Duabelas (TNBD)," the BKSD chief said.

The fires were first spotted on August 13, 2012.

"But we had prepared the Agni Manggala Team since last July," he said, adding that his office has since deployed 40 members of the team at each of the fire spots.

"However, he added, areas that were covered by burning peat, at a depth reaching 1.5 - 7 meters, took a relatively longer time to extinguish."

"We could only put out the fires at a rate 1.5 hectare per day, because the fires were burning under the surface of the peat. This caused us to face difficulties in extinguishing the fires," the BKSD chief said.

Jambi Governor Hasan Basri Agus said that he has set up a team in charge of handling forest and land fires, as well as the haze caused by smoke, in Jambi.

"We, the provincial government, have sent letters to the regional governments asking them to seriously help in fighting forest fires. We will also propose to the central government to assist by creating artificial rain," the governor stated.

On Kalimantan Island, hotspots were also reported in several districts and cities in South Kalimantan, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan Provinces.

The number of hotspots caused by forest and plantation fires in South Kalimantan, till October 2 were 801 - up 20 percent from the same period last year.

"Two days ago, the total number of hotspots detected in the province was 708 and it increased by 10 percent on Wednesday," said Rachmadi Kurdi, the head of the South Kalimantan forestry service in Banjarmasin.

"If there is no rain, the number of hotspots in the province might reach 900," Rachmadi added, urging local farmers and plantation owners to stop slash-and-burn farming.

The NOAA satellite detected the highest number of hotspots in Banjar District, at 146, followed by Tapin (100), Tanah Bumbu (84), Tanah Laut (77), Barito Kuala (77), Hulu Sungai Selatan (72), Kotabaru (68), Tabalong (67) and Balangan (40).

In Hulu Sungai Utara District, the satellite detected 39 hotspots - 15 in Banjarbaru, 13 in Hulu Sungai Tengah and three in Banjarmasin city.

Of the total number of hotspots detected in South Kalimantan, 234 (31.24 percent) were found in forests.

The haze also affected flights at the Syamsudin Noor Aiport in Banjarmasin recently.

"All morning flights on Monday were postponed for 15 minutes from their original schedules," Haruman, the operation manager of state airport management company PT Angkasa Pura I, said recently.

The visibility at the airport around 6 am on Monday was less than 400 meters but improved to more than 800 meters by 6.15 am, according to Haruman.

Earlier, for three consecutive days (Sept 28-30), all flights out of the airport had been delayed by almost two hours due to haze.

The haze also affected motorists and commuters as it covered roads and reduced visibility. Syaiful, a commuter, said that the visibility on Saturday morning was only five meters and he had difficulty seeing the road.

Further, Nurul, a housewife, said that she was forced to wear a face-mask because the haze affected her breathing.

In Central Kalimantan, at least 500 forest and plantation fires were detected.

"At least 76 of these spots are located in the East Kotawaringin district and 70 in the Pulang Pisau district," Andreas Dodi of the Central Kalimantan Nature Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said in Palangkaraya recently.

Further, from August 1 to 24 the number of forest fires being monitored in Central Kalimantan more than doubled from the 200 spots that were detected in July this year, he added.

Dodi also pointed out that more fires were expected due to the onset of the dry season in September and October this year.

On Java Island, forest fires were reported in West Java, Central Java and Bali. In West Java alone, the Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) reported that almost 99 percent of the forests in the province were affected by the fires.

Fires, among other things, razed the forest area at Mount Walat, Karang Tengah village, Cibadak, West Java and destroyed 10 hectares of area.

In Central Java, around 150 hectares of forest area on Mount Sindoro`s slope were razed by a fire that raged for three days from Sept 15-17. A similar fire had broken out on August 20 this year on the same mountain and had destroyed vegetation over a 15 hectare area.

As forest and bush fires continued to raze parts of Indonesia`s forests, Ma`mur Hasanuddin, a member of the House of Representatives (DPR) Commission IV blasted the forestry ministry for failing to take adequate measures to deal with the problem.

"Amid the prolonged drought, forest fires have been raging throughout Indonesia in the past four months, causing huge material losses and forest ecosystem damage," he said in Jakarta, last September 2012.

"Most of the forest fires were caused by human factors and the forestry ministry has not made enough efforts to prevent or put out the fires," he added.

Ma`mur pointed out that the Commission IV had allocated more funds for the forestry ministry in 2011 so it could effectively tackle forest fires.

"The Commission IV also approved Rp160 billion for the forestry ministry to buy four helicopters in 2012," he said.

Helicopters are needed to seed clouds with chemicals to produce rain and extinguish the fires.

The Assessment and Application of Technology Agency (BPPT) recently announced that the government planned to make artificial rain in Pekanbaru (Riau province) and Palangkaraya (Central Kalimantan) in anticipation of potential forest fires in the area.

"The operations of artificial rain in Pekanbaru and Palangkaraya will be conducted for 40 days and the coordination will be under the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB)," BNPB`s spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said recently.

Among other areas on the government`s priority list for potential forest fires are North Sumatra province, Jambi province, South Sumatra province, West Kalimantan province and East Kalimantan province.

The Riau BPBD confirmed that it planned to put out forest fires with artificially made rain in the province.

The agency will use two helicopters and a fixed wing plane in battling the forest fires in a bid to keep the air clean over this provincial city.

The West Kalimantan administration also expressed its intention to conduct cloud seeding operations in order to cause artificial rainfall and reduce the haze covering the province.

"At the coordination meeting, the governor has instructed the local authorities to tackle the haze problem in cooperation with the district administration," Vice Governor Christiandy Sanjaya said in Pontianak, on October 2, 2012.

"The haze problem is quite serious and needs to be immediately dealt with," he added.

Christiandy pointed out that West Kalimantan`s peat land was prone to wildfire, which was difficult to control once it broke out.

"Only heavy rain can reduce the haze. It is very difficult to tackle the haze manually," he stated. ***3***


(T.F001/A/KR-BSR/A/A014) 04-10-2012 18:13:43

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