Indonesia: Slash-and-burn method contributes to hotspots in Riau: Official

Antara 14 Mar 16;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - Several hotspots in Bengkalis District, Riau, are caused by the extreme weather during the dry season and the acts of irresponsible people who employ the slash-and-burn method for land clearing, stated a mitigation agency official.

The hotspots were detected in the sub-districts of Bantan and Bengkalis, Head of the Disaster Mitigation Agency of Bengkalis Districts Fire Brigade Division Suiswantoro stated here on Monday in response to the appearance of hotspots during this years dry season.

The hotspots were detected in the palm plantation area of Muntai Village.

"Five hectares of the palm plantation land is on fire," he pointed out.

However, Suiswantoro said he had yet to ascertain the total affected area, but most of the hotspots were found in peatlands. He further added that his men had been making efforts to extinguish the fires.

Meanwhile, according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG)-Pekanbaru Station, 12 hotspots were detected in the districts of Kepulauan Meranti and Bengkalis on Monday.

"In Bengkalis, there are four hotspots, while eight others were detected in Meranti," Sugarin from the BMKG-Pekanbaru Station stated.

Nine of the 12 hotspots were believed to be forest and land fires, with confidence level of more than 70 percent, he revealed.

In response to the discovery of hotspots in certain areas of Riau, the provincial government had declared an emergency alert status on Monday, indicating the need to expedite the efforts to prevent and handle forest and land fires.

"We responded to the fact that several district governments have already declared an emergency alert status, conveying the gravity of the situation to the central government," Acting Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman affirmed.

The status, which would remain effective for three months, was aimed at expediting measures for handling and preventing forest and land fires, he said, adding that Meranti, Bengkalis, Dumai, Rokan Hilir, Siak and Pelalawan district governments had declared the emergency alert status.

Speaking to journalists here, Rachman stated that this anticipatory step was taken after consulting with BMKGs Pekanbaru station, which had forecast that the intensity of rainfall in Riau was on the lower side.

With the alert status upgraded to emergency, the relevant authorities will be able to focus their efforts to prevent and extinguish forest and land fires through the optimum use of resources, he noted.

Last year, thick haze arising from the forest and land fires affected Riau and several other provinces in Sumatra Island, crippling commercial flights and triggering acute respiratory infections among several people.

(Reported by Fazar Muhardi & Anggi Romadhoni/Uu.R013/INE/KR-BSR/O001)

Local governments lack funds for peatland restoration
Anton Hermansyah, 14 Mar 16;

The central government has instructed local governments to intensify their peatland restoration programs, but has not allocated funds from the state budget, leaving them seriously short of funds for the program.

The government established the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) in January.

Jambi Governor Zumi Zola said on Monday his administration had used funds from the provincial budget and contributions to implement the program, but the money was not enough.

"We asked members of the House of Representative when some of them observed [conditions] in Jambi whether we could use the village funds (dana desa) to finance the program, but they have been unable to give an answer," Zumi told on Monday.

Forest fires can currently be found in Riau and Jambi provinces despite it being the rainy season.

As part of efforts to restore peatland, the local governments are rushing to construct canal dams before the dry season arrives. Canals are built to dry out peatland before planting. As dry peatland easily burns, canal blocking is used to keep the peat wet and prevent it catching fire.

"Riau constructed 4,700 canals, 4,164 of which were developed by private companies, 385 by the police and others by individuals and local governments," Riau Governor Annas Maamun said.

The central government aims to build 67,000 canal dams within two months as the rainy season will end in June or July. It will focus on 2 million hectares in four regencies: Pulang Pisau regency in Central Kalimantan, Ogan Komering Ilir in South Sumatra, Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra and Meranti in Riau.

"The cost of restoration is not cheap. There are two estimations -- the World Bank said it would require US$500 per hectare and CIFOR said $3,000 per hectare to restore the peatland over five years, while the government estimates it will take something between that," BRG chairman Nazir Foead told

The canal dams and embung (ponds of stagnant water) need to be constructed for water stocks. When peatland is on fire, water can be obtained quickly. (bbn)

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