Indonesia starting firefighting early as dry season begins

Niniek Karmini, Associated Press Jakarta Post 11 Mar 16;

Indonesia's top security minister said Friday that authorities have started efforts to fight forest and peatland fires that often pollute Southeast Asia's air as the dry season begins this month.

Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister for politics, legal and security affairs, said the government wants to avoid mistakes made last year when lack of prevention resulted in fires burning out of control. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo had to ask help from other countries to bring the blazes under control.

Forest fires have been an annual problem in Indonesia since the mid-1990s, causing a toxic haze that often drifts into neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Last year's fires, which covered 2.1 million hectares, were considered one of the country's worst environmental disasters since 1997, when blazes spread across nearly 10 million hectares.

Most of the fires are started deliberately to clear land for agriculture such as palm oil plantations.

"We will declare a state of emergency once fires are detected, particularly on peat land," Pandjaitan said. "We don't want to repeat mistakes we made last year."

Early declaration of emergencies will speed up the release of funds so authorities can deploy troops, helicopters and firefighting equipment more quickly, he said.

Damming canals so they flood peatland, which burns easily, is also being tried nationwide.

Scientists have predicted that low rainfall due to the El Nino effect could make fires worse this year if the government fails to stop intentional burning, particularly in Sumatra and Kalimantan on the Indonesian part of Borneo island.

The fires have caused health problems and economic losses on top of environmental damage. Last year in Indonesia there were 21 deaths and the smoky haze blanketing a swath of the country was estimated to have caused respiratory problems for half a million people.

The World Bank has estimated US$16 billion in economic costs from the 2015 fires, more than double what was spent on rebuilding Aceh province after the 2004 tsunami.

The Riau provincial government declared a state of emergency on Monday after fires in at least three districts began spreading rapidly because of strong winds. More than 700 police and soldiers have been deployed to extinguish the fires.

Riau province was one of the most severely affected areas last year.


Indonesia begins serious efforts to tackle forest fires
Authorities in Riau in western Indonesia have started their fight on forest fires, as the dry season begins to set in.
Sujadi Siswo Channel NewsAsia 11 Mar 16;

JAKARTA: Authorities in Riau in western Indonesia have started their fight on forest fires, as the dry season begins to set in.

On Tuesday (Mar 8), the Sumatran province declared a state of emergency over fires spreading rapidly because of strong winds. In just two months, more than 200 hectares of forests there have been razed.

More than 700 personnel from the military, police and forestry ministry have been deployed to put out the fires in Riau.

For the first time, coordinated joint patrols are also being deployed, not only to detect fires but also to educate the population on fire prevention.

"The new initiative from the Forestry and Environment Ministry this year is the coordinated joint-patrols. They consist of personnel from the military, police, fire fighters, community, media and non-governmental organisations,” said Supartono, spokesman for Riau Environment Conservation Agency.

On Monday, the Riau provincial government declared its highest level of disaster readiness since fires were detected in at least three districts two months ago.

It said it has the situation under control except for certain inaccessible areas where water bombing needs to be done.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry said so far 10 people have been questioned for allegedly starting the fires. Often, these are started by plantation companies and smallholders to clear land ahead of the planting season.

Riau was one of the provinces severely affected by forest fires last year, made worse by the prolonged dry season caused by the El Nino weather pattern.

It was considered to be one of the worst environmental disasters in recent years, costing the Indonesian government an estimated US$16 billion.

The haze from the fires choked its neighbors Singapore and Malaysia – and several parts of Thailand – causing schools, offices and airports to shut down for several days.

It also affected the health of hundreds of thousands of people in the region.

Singapore and Malaysia were among dozens of countries that assisted Indonesia in the fire-fighting efforts.

President Joko Widodo has vowed to tackle the problem and his government recently set up an agency to restore some two million hectares of carbon-rich peatland damaged by fires.

- CNA/jb


Jakarta employs new tactics to fight forest fires this dry season
Today Online 12 Mar 16;

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s top security minister said yesterday that authorities have started efforts to fight forest and peatland fires that often pollute South-east Asia’s air as the dry season begins this month.

Mr Luhut Pandjaitan, the Coordinating Minister for Politics, Legal and Security Affairs, said the government wants to avoid mistakes made last year when lack of prevention resulted in fires burning out of control. President Joko Widodo had to ask for help from other countries to bring the blazes under control.

Forest fires have been an annual problem in Indonesia since the mid-1990s, causing a toxic haze that often drifts into neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Last year’s fires, which covered 2.1 million ha, were considered one of the country’s worst environmental disasters since 1997, when blazes spread across nearly 10 million ha.

Most of the fires are started deliberately to clear land for agriculture such as palm oil plantations.

“We will declare a state of emergency once fires are detected, particularly on peat land,” said Mr Pandjaitan. “We don’t want to repeat mistakes we made last year.”

Early declaration of emergencies will speed up the release of funds so authorities can deploy troops, helicopters and firefighting equipment more quickly, he said. Damming canals so they flood peatland, which burns easily, is also being tried nationwide.

Scientists have predicted that low rainfall due to the El Nino effect could make fires worse this year if the government fails to stop intentional burning, particularly in Sumatra and Kalimantan on the Indonesian part of Borneo island.

The fires have caused health problems and economic losses, on top of environmental damage. Last year in Indonesia, there were 21 deaths and the smoky haze was estimated to have caused respiratory problems for half a million people.

The World Bank has estimated US$16 billion (S$22 billion) in economic costs from the 2015 fires, more than double what was spent on rebuilding Aceh province after the 2004 tsunami.

The Riau provincial government declared a state of emergency on Monday after fires in at least three districts began spreading rapidly because of strong winds. More than 700 police and soldiers have been deployed to extinguish the fires.

Riau province was one of the most severely affected areas last year.

Mr Anderson Tanoto, a director at Royal Golden Eagle, a diversified conglomerate that controls Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL), a producer of fibre, 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 the investment and manpower it needs to help prevent and fight fires.

“That means that all command posts will start working. The faster they start working, the faster the flame can be extinguished,” said Mr Anderson. “Last year, the alert was sent so late.”

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

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