Saturday, May 23, 2015


    Jakarta, May 23, 2015 (Antara) -- Sumatra Island, particularly Riau province, was affected by wildfires in forest, peatland or plantation areas every year over the last 17 years.
         Therefore, NGOs and Sumatran people lauded President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo for visiting Riau in November 2014, a month after his inauguration.
         During the visit, President Jokowi had vowed that there would not be anymore peatland fires in Riau next year (2015).
         In March, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Forestry Siti Nurbaya had released data on the decline in the number of hotspots across the country.

         In March 2015, the number of hotspots decreased from 4,400 in 2014 to 370 in Riau; from 1,244 to 113 in Jambi; from 3,794 to 52 in South Sumatra; from 5,381 to 122 in West Kalimantan; and from 5,434 to 88 in Central Kalimantan.
         "Keeping abreast of hotspots is crucial because they are signs of forest fires that could lead to haze. The government and President Jokowi are determined to prevent this disaster," Minister Nurbaya, who visits Riau province frequently to supervise efforts to fight wildfires, affirmed.
         According to data from the Riau Disaster Mitigation Office (BPBD), as many as 475 hotspots of forest and plantation fires were recorded in the districts of Bengkalis, Kampar, Pelalawan, Meranti, and Rokan Hilir between January and February 2015.
         The number of hotspots had indicated a downward trend, thanks to the emergency efforts made to extinguish the fires.
         However, earlier this year, haze had engulfed several areas and degraded the air quality in Pekanbaru, forcing the Riau provincial government to declare a state of emergency over haze.
    Acting governor of Riau Arsyadjuliandi Rachman had declared an emergency status between February and March 31. The Riau provincial government had later decided to extend the emergency status till October 2015 to enable authorities to implement necessary measures.
         "This step is aimed at anticipating forest and plantation fires in 2015," spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Sutopo Purwo Nugroho had said in a statement on February 22.
         Nugroho added that Riau province bears the brunt of forest fires every year.
         According to hotspot data for the 2006 to 2014 period, forest fires occurred twice every year in Riau between February and April and between June and October.
         In addition, the haze disaster triggered by the fires disrupted around 30 percent of economic activities and led to monetary losses in Riau.
         The fires also affected the health of local inhabitants and damaged the environment as more than 21.9 thousand hectares of forest and plantation areas were gutted by the flames.    
    The agency noted that forest and land fires that occurred in Riau province between February and April 2014 caused economic losses worth more than Rp20 trillion.
         The BNPB had spent some Rp164 billion, one-third of its budget, on dealing with the fires nationally.
         Moreover, the Riau administration has created an action plan to mitigate and prevent forest and land fires. It is aimed at freeing the province from the haze disaster, the Jakarta Post daily reported in March.
         The action plan includes designation of peatlands as protected areas, blocking of canals to maintain the wetness of peat, evaluation of documents and environmental licensing for plantation and forestry companies, enforcement of laws against companies disobeying audits, and the establishment and provision of incentives for fire-aware communities in fire-prone areas.
         However, despite these measures, some 25 forest and plantation fire hotspots were detected across Sumatra Island on May 22, of which 18 were in Riau province.
         According to Head of the Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Office Sugarin, the hotspots were found in the districts of Bengkalis (11 hotspots), Siak (3), Rokan Hilir (2), Kampar (1), and Rokan Hulu (1).
         The meteorology office urged the Riau provincial government to anticipate wildfires during the dry season, which will begin late May.
         "It has been forecast that beginning late May, Riau will enter the dry season, which will last until September," Sugarin said.
         The winds are predicted to blow from the south to northeast and north directions, which means that fire-triggered haze could spread to neighboring countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia.
         "If there is a haze disaster due to wildfires, it will spread to neighboring countries for sure," he noted.
         Earlier, Minister Siti Nurbaya had asked all parties to remain alert because according to the national meteorology agency, Indonesia will be affected by weak El Nino weather patterns until June, resulting in lower intensity and frequency of rain.  
    The government will exercise urgency in handling forest fires and land-burning in the hope that all sides conform to the prohibited act of burning for land-clearing purposes.
         "We have established coordination with security and law enforcement authorities to arrest any companies or farmers using fires to clear land," the minister stated.
         The government has prioritized fire prevention and mitigation in Jambi, Riau, South Sumatra, West and Central Kalimantan.
(T.F001/A/BESSR/Bustanuddin) 23-05-2015 22:10:17

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