Monday, September 14, 2015


   Jakarta, Sept 14, 2015 (Antara) - The prolonged drought induced by the El Nino phenomenon, has resulted in a water crisis and harvest failure in some provinces, and also increased the incidence of forest fires in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Java and Sulawesi.
         Smog and haze emanating from forest, peatland, and plantation fires has disrupted flight schedules, forced schools to shut down, and led to diseases, such as respiratory ailments, eye irritation and pneumonia.
         Schools in Palembang, Jambi, Pekanbaru and Bengkalis on Sumatra Island, and Singkawang and North Baritoon Kalimantan Island, have been closed as classrooms were filled with thick smoke and many students suffered from respiratory tract infections.

         The authorities have also urged inhabitants of the haze-hit regions to stay indoors, and advised them to wear face masks when they have to step outdoors. Residents have also been told to stay amply hydrated and eat nutritious food to stay healthy amidst the haze problem.
         In Riau alone, at least 25,524 people have fallen ill due to the haze as the air quality has reached unhealthy levels in the province.
         "Most of them, or 20,901, suffer from respiratory ailments," the Head of the Riau health office, Andra Sjafril, noted on September 14.
         The figure was derived from the number of people visiting community health centers and hospitals in 12 districts and cities in the province between June 29 and September 12.
         Some 454 people were found to be suffering from pneumonia, 893 from asthma, 1,356 from eye irritations, and 1,920 from skin irritations.
         From September 14 to September 24, four health command posts remained open at the Sultan Syarif Kasim II airport, the ex-MTQ building complex, the Central Market, and in Rumbai in Pekanbaru.
         Each post, manned by a doctor and two nurses, offered first aid to those affected by the haze.
         The South Sumatra chapter of the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) said the government has failed to meet its haze-free commitment this year as forest and plantation fires have ravaged some provinces.
         "The government's commitment to free Indonesia from haze this year has not been fulfilled. It is because the instructions of President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) were not carried out by his subordinate officials at the central and regional levels," South Sumatra's Walhi Executive Director, Hadi Jatmiko, stated in Palembang, recently.
South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin, who had reiterated the commitment of President Jokowi, had also failed to keep his province free from haze, Jatmiko noted.
         The failure was a result of the inability of the central and local governments to implement law enforcement and to revoke the licenses of plantation companies that had set fires in the first place for clearing land, according to the environmental NGO.
         Big companies still remain untouched by law. For instance, the BMH plantation company in Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) is suspected of having caused the state losses worth Rp7.9 trillion.   
    During President Jokowi's visit to the South Sumatra Province on September 6, a hotspot was found in the PT BMH location in Musi Banyuasin, the NGO activist remarked.
         The government and law enforcement officials are also discriminating against small farmers by holding them responsible for the haze.
         In fact, based on the monitoring conducted by the NGO in August and September 2015, most hotspots were detected in 18 industrial forestry companies and 60 plantation companies located in South Sumatra.
         Jatmiko expressed hope that Jokowi would personally lead law enforcement efforts and review the licenses of plantation companies that had used fire for land clearing.
         The government must penalize them seriously and indiscriminately, he added.
         At the national level, Walhi has opened command posts for suing plantation companies responsible for forest fires that have caused the widespread haze in a number of provinces.
         In a press statement issued on Monday, the NGO urged the public to actively fight for their rights for a good and healthy environment, which is free from haze, and their rights for living healthily, as well as the rights of the future generations.
         Walhi also called on people living in haze-free regions to pledge their solidarity with those impacted by the haze, and support the move to sue the authorities.
         Most of the hotspots are located inside plantation areas; both oil palm and industrial forestry areas (HTI), as well as mining companies, Walhi pointed out.
         Companies must be held accountable for their bad practices, the NGO said.
     It also criticized the government for its reactionary response to tackling forest fires and for not addressing the root cause of the problems leading to the haze.
         The government should review or even revoke the business licenses of companies operating in places where hotspots are found frequently, whether it is their plantation or mining areas, it noted.
         The government's negligence and the companies' corporate crimes have claimed many victims, particularly children, who have fallen ill due to the haze. Their future is being threatened because they are being exposed to the haze, the NGO added.
         Walhi further said it will provide assistance to individuals wanting to file law suits because the country's Constitution has clearly stated the right of every citizen to live in a healthy and clean environment.
         The command posts have been set up in haze-prone provinces, such as Central Kalimantan, West Kalimantan, South Sumatra, Riau and Jambi, and will entertain complaints made by victims of forest fires.
         President Widodo, in fact, has ordered security agencies to take action against companies that have burnt fields leading to the haze in these six provinces.
         "I have ordered the national police chief to take firm action, as soon as possible against companies violating the law," he said while inspecting forest fires in the Pulau Geronggang village of Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra on September 6. 
    The head of state also reminded all ministries/institutions, TNI (military)/police and all related offices that prevention is the best policy.
         Jokowi said he has ordered the Forestry Minister to revoke the concession rights of companies found guilty of breaking the law. ***2***

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