Tuesday, February 11, 2014


    Jakarta, Feb 11, 2014 (Antara)- Despite the government's target to reduce the number of hotspots this year, almost 300 hotspots were detected throughout Sumatra on February 11, indicating that forest and plantation fires have made a comeback on the island.
         Indonesia's forest area spans over 130 million hectares, which is the world's third-largest after Brazil and Congo. Every year, Indonesia is hit by forest, plantation, and peatland fires, particularly on Sumatra and Kalimantan islands.

         Although the existing laws in Indonesia ban people from setting fires in forest, plantation, and peatland areas, most of the fires have been deliberately set by irresponsible plantation companies hoping to clear the land for plantation or farming activities.   
    The haze arising from land-clearing fires often degrades the air quality, triggers health problems in several people, and reduces visibility in the affected areas.
         In addition to human factors, the nature's anomaly can also trigger forest fires. In 1982-83 and 1994, the El Nino-induced forest fires destroyed around 6.4 million hectares of forest, especially in East Kalimantan.
         This year, on February 11, the Terra and Aqua Satellite detected 297 hotspots of forest fires on the Sumatra Island, a significant increase from 62 hotspots detected on the previous day, Bibin Sulianto, an analyst from the Pekanbaru meteorological, climatology, and geophysics agency (BMKG) stated in Pekanbaru, Riau Province, Sumatra Island.
         Of the total 297 hotspots, 140 hotspots were in North Sumatra, 81 in Riau province, 67 in Aceh Darussalam, and three respectively in Riau Islands and West Sumatra.
         Sulianto noted that he was unaware of the origin of the hotspots, but he was sure that the hotspots were not related to the Mount Sinabung eruption in North Sumatra.
         Of the 81 hotspots detected in Riau, 26 were found in the Bengkalis district, 14 in Indragiri Hilir, 13 in Siak district, 13 in Pelalawan, five in Rokan Hilir, four in Kampar district, five in Meranti district, and one in Dumai city.
         The haze forced Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air, and Air Asia to postpone their flights to Pekanbaru, Riau, as the visibility had decreased to 500 meters.
         A Garuda flight was initially scheduled to land at the Sultan Syarif Kasim II airport in Pekanbaru, at 7 a.m. local time and a Lion Air flight at 8 a.m., but their landings were postponed until 10 a.m. local time, the airport's duty manager, Baiquni, reported here on Tuesday. Garuda and Lion Air flights had taken off from Jakarta.
         Air Asia, too, decided to delay its flight by two hours from Bandung, West Java, to Pekanbaru due to the haze.
         A number of flights from Pekanbaru to other destinations were also delayed in the morning.
         In the Dumai city, the visibility drastically dropped to only five meters on February 11, at 7 a.m. local time, due to the thick haze.
         "Bukit Datur at 7 a.m.: The visibility is only five meters.  Enjoy the haze," Naning, a local inhabitant, tweeted.
         Erist, a local motorist, complained that the haze in South Dumai was so thick he had to be extra careful while riding his motorbike. He also stated that the haze hurt his eyes.
         Since Dumai has been affected by the haze for the past week, the local environmental office has distributed 10 thousand face masks to the pedestrians on the city's main roads to protect them from developing respiratory problems due to prolonged exposure to the smog.
         In the Siak district, the haze forced the authorities to shut down around 210 schools for two days, on February 11 and 12.
         "A total of 210 schools are being kept closed because the haze is getting thicker and may cause harm to the health of the children," Head of the Siak education office Kadri Yafis noted on Feb. 11.
         The schools, comprising various levels: elementary, junior, and senior high, are located across 13 subdistricts in the Siak district.
         The Siak Environmental Agency (BLH) added that the condition of the air is currently at a dangerous level due to the haze.
         Siak district's Chief for Air Quality Control Affairs Irma Suryani confirmed that the air in the Riau province, especially in the Dumai city and Siak district, is deemed dangerous for the local people to breathe.
         "According to the Index of Air Pollution Standard (ISPU), the air quality in the Dumai city and Siak district has been recorded at 485 PSI, which is considered very unhealthy and hazardous for humans," he claimed.
         Dewani, a spokesman from Riau province's Health Office recommended that the people should stay indoors until the air quality came back to normal.
         Last year, the Indonesian government declared a state of emergency in the Riau province on June 21, after heavy smog blanketed parts of the Sumatra Island, Singapore, and Malaysia.
         Several flights were postponed or cancelled and the Sultan Syarif Kasim (SSK) II Airport in Pekanbaru, Riau Island, was temporarily shut down due to the haze on June 20, 2013.
         Singapore urged its citizens to remain indoors amid unprecedented levels of air pollution, while Malaysia closed 200 schools and banned open-air burning in some areas last year.
         As haze coming from forest, plantation, and peatland fires had affected lives of thousands of people in Sumatra as well as in Malaysia and Singapore, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had instructed all-out measures to fight the blazes raging across Sumatra.
         The Indonesian head of state on June 20, 2013, ordered all the relevant ministries and institutions to put out the fires within a month's period.
         The government has, in fact, planned to reduce the number of hotspots by 20 percent per year to meet the country's pledge of cutting its CO2 emissions by 26 percent by the year 2020.
         The pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions was announced by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in his speech to the G20 leaders on September 25, 2009.
         He emphasized that the government was crafting a policy that will curb emissions by 26 percent by the year 2020, from "business as usual" (BAU) levels. With international support, he was confident that Indonesia can successfully cut emissions by as much as 41 percent.
         "This target is entirely achievable because most of our emissions come from forest-related issues, such as forest fires and deforestation," he announced in the U.S. city of Pittsburgh in 2009.
         Last year, the Ministry of Forestry set a target of reducing the number of hotspots arising from forest and plantation fires in Kalimantan, Sumatra, and Sulawesi by 59.2 percent from the average number of hotspots recorded during 2005-2009.
         If the total number of hotspots during the 2005-2009 period was 58,890, then the target will be 24,027, the forestry ministry pointed out in 2013.
         Based on the data received from the NOAA18 satellite's monitoring, the number of hotspots detected in Kalimantan, Sumatra, and Sulawesi stood at 19,353 during 2013.
        The ministry has decided that the permissible limit of hotspots this year is set at 19,316, reported the ministry's forest fire control director, Raffles Panjaitan, in Pekanbaru, on January 30, 2014.
        "For this year, the permissible limit of hotspots is 19,316, but we hope that it will be below this limit," Panjaitan added. ***3***

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