Indonesia: Govt promises better response to forest fires

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 15 Mar 16;

The government has promised a swifter responses to annual forest fires, including declaring a state of emergency sooner.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said on Monday that the government would be able to keep this year’s forest fires under control as it had learned from past experiences.

“When there’s a problem, we declare a state of emergency immediately. We already have a policy [to announce a state of emergency],” he told The Jakarta Post.

By declaring a state of emergency, the government could immediately disburse funding and other resources to manage forest fires, Luhut said.

He added that the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Ministry would be coordinating the attempts to manage this year’s forest fires, as stipulated by a presidential decree on forest fires.

The retired army general said that one of the main reasons why last year’s forest fires escalated so rapidly and razed up to 2.6 million hectares of land was because of the government’s slow response.

“To be honest with you, we declared a state of emergency very late. We had very little understanding of the peatland situation at that time,” Luhut said.

He said the government would not repeat the same mistakes this year as the number of hotspots had increased recently in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“This year, some areas have already been impacted by El NiƱo,” Luhut said. “Now, we are making preparations as early as possible.”

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) detected 151 hotspots on Sunday, with 76 hot spots in East Kalimantan and 45 hot spots in Riau. There were also 11 hot spots in Aceh, seven in North Kalimantan and two each in Central Sulawesi, Gorontalo and South Sulawesi.

“Actually there have been forest fires in Riau and East Kalimantan for the past three weeks with a fluctuating number of hot spots. The number of hotspots in East Kalimantan is the highest compared to other regions in Indonesia. This is an anomaly because in the past, there were relatively less forest fires in East Kalimantan than in other regions,” BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Sunday.

He said that forest fires started to reappear this year as some regions were suffering from dry weather.

“Riau is entering this year’s first dry season from now until April. But the current dry season is not as dry as the upcoming second dry season from July until September,” Sutopo said.

Besides Riau, other regions, such as the eastern coast of North Sumatra, have been affected by the dry season this year.

“Other regions that we need to pay more attention to are the eastern part of Riau, eastern part of North Sumatra and central part of South Sulawesi,” Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) head Andi Eka Sakya said in a press statement.

Meanwhile, the dry season will start in other regions in May, affecting 65.8 percent of Indonesia, and end in late October, he added.

Besides promising a swifter response to forest fires, Luhut said that the government had prepared other measures, including utilizing village funds.

“At the same time, we have a program relating to how to use the village funds to prevent forest fires. The village fund is important to reduce the gap between the haves and have nots,” he said. “In 2016, we have transferred 36.7 percent of this year’s village funds. This money can be utilized by forest fire-free village programs.”

Luhut added that the funding allocation would increase from year to year, with this year’s allocation increasing by up to US$100,000 per village from $60,000 per village last year.


Nearly all forest fires in Jambi are intentionally started: Governor
Anton Hermansyah, thejakartapost.com 15 Mar 16;

Jambi Governor Zumi Zola has claimed that nearly all forest fires in his province are intentionally started as part of land-clearing efforts.

"In Jambi, only a small percentage of fires occur naturally. During the last three months, we have already caught five people for burning attempts," Zumi said in Jakarta on Monday.

Forest fires have returned to the province on account of a lack of rainfall. The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Jambi station head, Nurangesti Widyastuti, said the fires may worsen if rain did not fall in the coming days.

The provincial government’s efforts to fight forest fires include deploying officials and residents to extinguish the fires, banning the slash-and-burn method for land clearing and recommending the revocation of licenses for companies found guilty of forest burning, said Zumi.

"We are monitoring forest continuously. We are fining and charging owners of companies who still adopt the slash-and-burn method," Zumi said.

In cooperation with the local legislative council (DPRD), the Jambi government has issued a bylaw prohibiting the slash-and-burn method for land clearing.

"We have a program that provides each district with one excavator. But implementing the program is hard as we are short of funds," Zumi said.

The local government has also urged private companies to help combat forest fires.

“For the plantation companies, this is the right time to implement CSR [corporate social responsibility] programs and not just give charity,” he added.

Jambi was among the provinces most affected by last year’s forest fires, which spread haze to neighboring Singapore and Malaysia and caused serious health problems. (bbn)


Minister prefers traditional blocking canals to prevent forest fires
Anton Hermansyah, thejakartapost.com 15 Mar 16;

Public Works and Public Housing Minister Basuki Hadimulyono says he prefers the traditional method of constructing blocking canals to modern methods.

"A blocking canal constructed by the people is more sustainable than the ones constructed with concrete," said Basuki in Jakarta on Monday. He said that the material could easily be found near peatland.

Blocking canal construction is carried out to maintain moisture in peatland to prevent fires.

Traditional blocking canal construction methods use wood and sacks as canal walls, while newer methods involve the construction of a concrete or fiberglass canal wall, Basuki explained on Monday.

The government has intensified the development of blocking canals in Kalimantan and Sumatra forests, particularly in the peatland areas, to prevent forest fires during the dry season. Last year’s forest fires on two of the country’s main islands caused serious health problems, disrupted flights and spread haze to Singapore and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) chairman Nazir Foead said that his institution considered the use of fiberglass in its construction of blocking canals because it was light and durable. He said that concrete blocking canals were not suitable for peatland.

"There are small and medium enterprises [SMEs] that can make fiberglass, including in Riau. The canal blocking program will empower local SMEs," Nazir told thejakartapost.com.(bbn)

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