Indonesia: New system developed to tackle forest fires

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 12 Mar 16;

The government, learning from the negligence that led to last year’s widespread land and forest fires which is considered one of the century’s greatest environmental catastrophes, is developing a new system of fire prevention.

Last Friday, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) detected 59 hotspots in Sumatra, including 45 hotspots in Riau; with the dry season approaching, concerns are mounting over a repeat of last year’s debilitating fires and haze.

“Under the current mitigation system, when a fire is detected, it is extinguished. This leads to fluctuations in the number of hotspots. But we can’t keep chasing fires like that. As such, we plan to develop a system within the next two to three weeks to make the government more active and able to prevent forest fires,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said on Friday.

The new system is to be developed in conjunction with the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Ministry, the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister and the World Bank, and will engage regional governments and local communities in preventing forest fires. The system is expected to ensure every decision regarding forest fire prevention made by regional governments is followed at all levels down to village level.

In practice, the government will also utilize its social assets in the form of community engagement to prevent forest fires.

BNPB head Willem Rampangilei said recently that the government would train local residents to prevent land and forest fires, as they were more able to respond quickly to flare-ups. To date, Willem said, local people had not been involved in fire-prevention efforts, and were indeed often blamed for setting fires.

Siti said the government was optimistic the initiative to engage local communities would succeed, as she had noticed increasing public involvement in regions prone to forest fires.

“We already have good capital. I noticed in South Sumatra there was very lively [public involvement]. Whenever a hot spot emerges, local people move instantly [to put out the fire],” she said.

The mitigation system will be coupled with a monitoring system currently being prepared by the government, Siti added.

Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) head Nazir Foead said on Thursday the agency was working together with Hokkaido University and Kyoto University in Japan to develop an early warning system for detecting fires in peatland. The early warning system would, Nazir said, complement that of the BNPB.

“While the BNPB system monitors what happens above ground, we will monitor what happens below the ground, such as the depth of water in peatland,” Nazir said.

He said the system, dubbed SESAME, was being tested by Japan and the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) in Central Kalimantan.

“BRG research and development deputy Haris Gunawan is currently meeting with a number of academics in Japan to discuss the possibility of adopting the system not only in Central Kalimantan but also in other places,” said Nazir.

The BRG is also looking at the possibility of moving the system server from Japan to Indonesia, he added.

“Japan is prepared to have the server located in Indonesia. We just have to decide whether the system is managed by the BPPT, the BNPB, the Environment and Forestry Ministry or us. We think the BPPT is the most appropriate government agency [to manage the system] because the BRG has a lifespan of only five years,” Nazir said.

Indonesia to Better Manage Forest and Land Fires This Year: Officials, Private Sector
Muhamad Al Azhari Jakarta Globe 11 Mar 16;

Jakarta. Indonesia’s government officials and the private sector claim forest fires prevention and management will be better this year after a tough lesson from what critics have called the country's worst environmental disaster last year, which cost the state billions of dollars.

An early alarm rang this month in Riau province, which suffers from forest fires every year. Provincial spokesperson Darusman said the Riau governor has declared a state of emergency over forest and land fires, a Reuters report said on Wednesday (09/03).

Agus Justianto, senior advisor to the Minister of the Environment and Forestry said on Thursday the government has responded to any threats of forest fires seriously.

Indonesia experienced the worst draught in 15 years caused by the El Nino weather pattern last year. The nation’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) predicted this year’s continued El Nino isn’t less severe as last year’s.

“We have prepared for an integrated approach,” Agus, who advises the minister on natural resources and economic affairs, told the Jakarta Globe.

Agus was speaking on the first day of a two-day meeting of the General Assembly of the Tropical Forest Alliance in Jakarta from March 10-11.

Agus said Indonesia’s integrated approach to tackling forest fire include a stronger monitoring for law enforcement to push for action against possible offenders of forest-fires, creating a one-map policy to govern land and forest areas to establishing a dedicated agency for peatland restoration.

On top of that, he said, the government has also established regional task forces in nine provinces to push for prevention and tackling forest fire issues within their regions.

“The source of funding for these task forces are from the state and provincial budgets, those are the primary sources, but it doesn’t close the chances to receive funding from other parties, including from the private sectors and other countries,” Agus said.

In Riau, Reuters’ report said about 500 police and military personnel and a water-bombing helicopter had been dispatched to help extinguish the fires, even though the haze had not yet reached urban areas.

Nazir Foead, the head of the Peatland Restoration Agency said the fire in Riau province covered an area of about 100 hectares, but it took place about three kilometer from the nearest airport in Dumai. Pinang Kampai Airport in Dumai serves the city and surrounding areas.

Riau governor decided to declare a state of emergency. Top executives from pulp and paper companies operating in Riau welcomed the move and share the same optimism about forest fire fight may be better this year.

The sooner, the better

Anderson Tanoto, a director at Royal Golden Eagle, a diversified conglomerate that controls Asia Pacific Resources International (April), a producer of fiber, pulp and paper, said that the declaration of a state of emergency “was positive,” as it will help Riau, the province in which April has its main operations, to secure all investment and manpower it needs to help prevent and fight fires.

“Last year, the alert was sent so late,” said Anderson.

April operates a 1,750 hectare manufacturing complex in Kerinci, one of the largest single-site pulp mills in the world.

“That’s why I think this is a positive thing, because it [the alert] was sent in March. That means that all command posts will start working; the faster they start working, the faster the flame can be extinguished,” Anderson said.

Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability at Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), a subsidiary of the Sinar Mas Group conglomerate, said APP has made commitments for this year to spend more than $20 million for its broad fire management strategy, which lists measures like prevention, preparation, early detection and rapid responses.

The impact of Indonesia's forest and land fires last year was massive, as it resulted in haze that blew to neighboring countries, but also caused significant economic, environmental and social damages.

The World Bank in a report released in November said that early estimates of the total economic costs of the fires in 2015 in Indonesia alone exceed $16 billion, which means it was more than double the damage and losses from the 2004 tsunami and equal to about 1.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

This estimation includes calculation in losses in agriculture, transport, trade, forestry, industry, tourism and other sectors.

The World Bank said in the report that "some of these costs are direct damage and losses to crops, forests, houses and infrastructure, as well as the cost of responding to the fires."

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