Indonesia: Forest and bush fires expected to end in October

The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 16;

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) estimated on Monday that the bush and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan would end in October, a time slated to have high intensity rains.

“Rainfall intensity this year is high compared to last year. And in October, most areas of the country will see a rainy season,” agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said at a press conference.

Sutopo warned that the threat of forest fires and land burning would still occur in September, mostly in Riau and provinces in the northern part of the equator, such as West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency predicted that October rainfall in most areas of Indonesia would be of high intensity, with downpours estimated to measure as much as 500 millimeters per day.

Meanwhile, BNPB reported findings of 138 hot spots around the country on Monday. Eighty-five of them were found in Riau, producing enough haze to blow to Singapore. However, Sutopo claimed the haze that crossed borders was not thick, and not dangerous to Singaporeans.

As of Monday, there have been 12,884 hot spots detected, while 2015 experienced 32,734 hot spots. Six provinces, comprising Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan, have declared a haze emergency. The government had operated 17 water bombing aircraft and planes for artificial rain. (wnd/bbn)

All-out fight against forest fires in Sumatra, Kalimantan
Antara 29 Aug 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian authorities had a fleeting sense of relief that there had been no haze from forest fires until early August this year, thanks to all out efforts to put out the fires by joint teams that included military and police personnel, as well as local inhabitants.

The government claimed that the number of forest fire cases had drastically dropped by 78 percent until August this year, compared to last year.

The significant drop was a result of the hard work of regional heads and security personnel, and was also attributed to the enhanced awareness on the part of plantation companies managers, according to Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo claimed in statement posted on the home affairs ministrys website, around a couple of weeks ago.

The role played by the regional governments, supported by the military, the police, various companies and the community, proved crucial to tackling the problem.

Integrated and early fire detection and extinguishing systems have also been applied up to the rural area level.

Village chiefs in eight areas, where local customs allowed slash and burn farming methods, were able to adopt new ways, thanks to the governments public awareness campaign, the minister said.

In addition to the active role played by the state apparatus and the community, involving timber plantation concession holders (HTI) helped put in place important preventive measures, he noted.

But, unfortunately, despite the maximum efforts, haze has reportedly returned in Riau and West Kalimantan Provinces, since last week.

The districts of Rokan Hilir, Dumai and Pekanbaru in Riau Province, were shrouded by haze. Haze reportedly also spread to neighboring country, Singapore on Aug. 26

Most of the fires came from local farmers who practiced slash and burn method to open farmlands mostly in peatland area, according to reports.

Commander of the Riau Fire Task Force Brig.Gen. Nurendi said in the past two weeks 600 hectares of forest and peat lands caught fires. Most of the lands are owned by farmers, the general said.

NASAs Aqua and Terra satellites detected 65 hotspots of forest fires across Sumatra Island with an accuracy rate at 50 percent, Aug. 27 morning, an increase from 51 hotspots on the previous day.

Nearly 94 percent, or 61 hotspots were concentrated in Riau Province. The rest were in Lampung Province with three hotspots, and one in West Sumatra.

In Riau, the hotspots were found in the districts of Rokan Hilir (36), Siak (13), Bengkalis (nine), Rokan Hulu (two), and Kampar (one).

The Indonesian Air Force based in Pekanbaru, has deployed four helicopters each with a water carrying capacity of four to five thousand liters, and two air tractors having capacity of carrying 3,100 liters of water, to carry out water bombing activities to put out the fires.

Over the past two weeks in Bengkalis, a joint team comprising among others 60 Riau mobile brigade personnel, 25 police officers of Pinggir police sector, 10 military personnel, 10 fire fighters, and 100 local residents, have done their utmost to extinguish the fires.

Forest fires have also been reported West Kalimantan sending thick black smokes to the air including in the provincial city of Pontianak.

The local people were worried that what happened last year would repeat itself again in that region.

The return of haze from forest fires has forced the environmental affairs and forestry ministry to place the country under emergency with regards to anticipating and preventing the impact of smoke emanating from forest and land fires.

"In the morning, afternoon and evening, we kept monitoring the situation and as soon as we detected a fire, we immediately acted to put it out. As a result, the number of fires this year has dropped sharply by 70 to 90 percent," Minister of Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya.

Like Minister Kumolo, Nurbaya also claimed that the number of hotspots in Jambi and West Kalimantan has dropped by 90 percent.

However, there has been a hike in the number of hotspots, which doubled, especially in Riau and West Kalimantan, she added.

The joint teams have dropped up to 45 million liters of water to extinguish the fires in Riau and three million liters in South Sumatra. Efforts are still continuing to fight fires including in West Kalimantan and Jambi.

It is predicted that forest and bush fires were more devastating in August and September.

Therefore, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) had earlier instructed that action must not be delayed to put an end to fires when they were still easier to control.

The order was given to prevent a recurrence of the 2015 land and forest fires that had produced smoke chocking hundreds of thousands of Sumatran and Kalimatan inhabitants, and spreading up to Malaysia and Singapore.

The legal enforcement has also been stepped up to prevent fires intentionally set in farmland and plantation areas particularly.

In line with the Law No. 32 Year 2009 on Environmental Protection and Management, forest and plantation arsonists could face up to 15 years in jail and a fine worth Rp15 billion maximally if the fire claims casualties.

The National Polices Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim) has detained 85 forest fire individual suspects in Riau this year.

"In addition, nine companies are being investigated for alleged involvement in forest fires," Bareskrim chief Insp. Gen. Ari Dono Sukmanto said on Aug. 25.

In West Kalimantan, the Military District Command (Kodim) 1207/BS Pontianak has detained 38 people, including 26 farmers, suspected of setting fires.

"Of the 38 suspects, 36 are farmers who clear their farm lands by setting fire to them, and one cleared land the same way for housing construction," Commander of Kodim 1207/BS Pontianak, Colonel (Inf) Jacky Ariestanto said.

Another suspect cleared land by using fire for a palm oil plantation, he added.

Earlier, the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) announced six of Indonesian provinces - Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan, are in emergency of forest and bush fires.

BNPB has put into operation eight water bombing helicopters to help extinguish the fires, spokesman of the agency Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Aug. 23.

The threat is not over as it is feared that the worst of dry season is yet to come. Normally in September forest fires are more devastating.

In September and October 2015, the hazardous haze emanating from the forest, peatland and plantation fires had led to 10 deaths, left 503 thousand people sick and 43 million people exposed to smoke, in six provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan alone.

Thousand of the two islands inhabitants had suffered from acute respiratory infection, eye and skin irritations, and pneumonia.

Legal enforcement stepped up to combat forest fires
Fardah Antara 29 Aug 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Riaus inhabitants have long yearned to lead a haze-free existence as they have reeled under the impacts of smoke originating from forest and plantation fires over the past eight years, particularly in the dry season.

Last year, despite various efforts to combat wildfires that had ravaged the countrys six provinces, especially Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands, in September and October, the hazardous haze emanating from the fires had led to 10 deaths, left 503 thousand people ill, and exposed around 43 million people to smoke.

Thousands of the two islands inhabitants had suffered from acute respiratory infection, eye and skin irritations, and pneumonia.

The haze emanating from the forest fires did not only harm the locals and the environment, but has also affected the financial performance of airways and state airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II.

PT Angkasa Pura II had suffered an estimated loss of Rp30 billion during the past month due to the haze, and some three thousand flights were affected over the September 1 to October 10 period alone, due to the haze.

Airports in Jambi and Pekanbaru (Riau Province) in Sumatra and in Pontianak (West Kalimantan Province) had to be frequently shut down due to poor visibility.

The World Bank recorded that forest and plantation fires, which had ravaged Indonesia last year, inflicted material losses worth trillions of rupiah, in addition to the operational costs involved in extinguishing the fires.

In November 2015, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) visited Riau to supervise the efforts to put out the fires. He also went to Kalimantan for the same reason.

This year, the government has intensified efforts to combat the fires as early as possible by deploying joint teams that included military and police personnel.

This is in line with President Jokowis instructions issued last January that whenever a fire breaks out, it should be tackled immediately.

The president has reminded all rank and file of the need to take steps as early as possible to prevent a recurrence of the 2015 land and forest fires

Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya claimed that the number of forest fire cases had dropped drastically by 75 percent until August this year, compared to last year.

The significant drop was the result of the hard work of the forest fire task force comprising military and police personnel, among others.

The Indonesian Air Force and the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) have deployed a number of helicopters and air tractors to carry out water bombing, as well several planes to make artificial rain.

A total of 88 thousand hectares of forest, peatland, and land areas across Indonesia were gutted by fires, a drop from 190 thousand hectares in the same period last year, according to Nurbaya.

Legal enforcement measures have also been intensified against forest arsonists, including farmers, using the slash and burn method that lead to uncontrolled fires on their farmlands.

The National Police have handled 498 cases of forest fire across Indonesia until August 2016, compared to last years 275 cases, including those involving nine companies that are still being investigated.

However, unfortunately, over the past week, haze is reportedly back in several towns in Riau and West Kalimantan Provinces particularly.

NASAs Terra and Aqua Satellites detected 167 hotspots across Sumatra Island in the morning of Aug. 29, a drastic increase from only 50 hotspots on the previous day.

The hotspots were found in seven provinces, including 145 hotspots, or 86 percent of them, in Riau.

Some eight hotspots were detected in South Sumatra Province; four in Jambi; two in West Sumatra; and one hotspot each in Bangka Belitung, Riau Islands, and North Sumatra.

Most of the fires were started by local farmers who practiced the slash and burn method to clear farmlands, mostly in peatland areas, according to reports.

The slash and burn method is banned, except in a farm measuring less than two hectares and having good fire control management.

In line with Law No. 32 of 2009 on environmental protection and management, forest and plantation arsonists could face up to 15 years in jail and a fine worth Rp15 billion maximally if the fire leads to any casualties.

The Indonesian police have arrested more than 450 suspects in connection with land and forest fires this year as part of a wider move to get tough on errant farmers and companies that still insist on using the outlawed slash-and-burn land clearing method.

"The number of people arrested this year has risen compared to last year," National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian informed the media on Aug. 25.

In Riau, the National Police's Criminal Investigation Agency (Bareskrim) has detained 85 forest fire individual suspects this year.

"In addition, nine companies are being investigated for alleged involvement in forest fires," Bareskrim chief Insp. Gen. Ari Dono Sukmanto said in Jakarta, on Aug. 25.

In Pontianak, Military District Command (Kodim) 1207/BS Pontianak has detained 38 people suspected of setting fires in West Kalimantan forest area in August 2016.

"Of the 38 suspects, 36 are farmers who clear their farm lands by setting fire to them, and one cleared land the same way for housing construction," Commander of Kodim 1207/BS Pontianak, Colonel (Inf) Jacky Ariestanto said here, Friday.

Another suspect cleared land by using fire for a palm oil plantation, he added.

"The perpetrator from a plantation company management was considered careless because he failed to put out the fire in his plantation area," he said.

The suspects have been handed over to the local police for further investigation.

Each year wildfires destroy 6 to 14 million hectares of fire-sensitive forests worldwide, a rate of loss and degradation comparable to that of destructive logging and agricultural conversion, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The World Conservation Union (IUCN), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) have come together to work proactively with multi-lateral agencies, governments, private sector and local communities to develop integrated fire management approaches that address underlying causes and develop long-term sustainable solutions.

The core elements of such an approach must include: building awareness amongst policy-makers, the public and the media of the underlying causes of catastrophic forest fires; and discouraging land management practices that predispose forests to harmful fires.(*)

Police chief orders arrest of forest fire perpetrators
Antara 30 Aug 16;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - National Police chief General Tito Karnavian has ordered the arrest of the perpetrators of forest and land fires.

"Some have burned them. So just arrest and process them," he said when inspecting forest and land fires in Rimbo Panjang in the sub-district of Tambang, Kampar district, Riau province in Sumatra.

Accompanied by Riau governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, the chief of Riaus forest fire emergency task force, Brigadier General Nurendi and the chief of the Roesmin Nurjadin air base, General Tito immediately left for the fire location upon arrival at the regional Sultan Syarif Kasim II airport.

The location is 20 minutes away from the provincial capital city of Pekanbaru and through dirt road for around one kilometer long.

During the inspection the team from the task force was just conducting water bombing to put out the fires using helicopters MI-8 and MI-171.

The smell of smoke was strongly felt coming from the fires in Rimbo Panjang that have lasted for the past three days.

The national police chief said forest fires in Riau happened due absence of rain to make peat land drier and thus vulnerable to fires. The situation has been worsened by strong wind that has made the fires to move from one place to another.

"Now the fires have happened. So our focus now is fighting them and enforcing the law. We appreciate our colleagues here that have named 85 people suspects behind the fires. In the future they must just arrest those who cause fires," he said.

General Tito underlined the difficult access to the locations of fires and so special cars are needed to take water tanks to the centers of fires.

He said water supply has also been a source of problems and so wells would be needed.

"I will coordinate with the central agencies including the Peat Restoration Agency to increase the number of wells and equipment for the fire fighters," he said.(*)

Residents burning trash cause fires in Pontianak
Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 16;

The Pontianak Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) has recently identified five to seven hot spots, caused not by forest fires but by residents burning trash near dry vegetation, causing the flames to spread to adjoining areas.

“We detected five to seven spots at the same time. We have deployed fire trucks, but local authorities and residents are also expected to extinguish the fires themselves,” Pontianak BPBD head Aswin Taufik told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province, does not have forests but has experienced several fires in empty fields near housing areas. Since July, dozens of hectares have caught fire. Some have occurred on peatland, where fires are more difficult to extinguish because they smolder underground, and they also cause haze.

“I can say that 92 percent of the fires in Pontianak city were caused by manmade mistakes or negligence. People burn trash and the fires spread to dry land nearby,” Aswin said.

BPBD fire trucks have so far extinguished 45 fires.

Pontianak Mayor Sutarmidji said he suspected that some developers intentionally set fire to empty fields to clear the land quickly. If he found proof of such crimes, he said, he would suspend the developers’ building permits for three years and ask them to pay firefighting costs.

“Each field that has been burned will get a sign stating that it is under the city administration’s supervision,” Sutarmidji said. (evi)

60% of forest fires in Kalimantan, Sumatra not on concession land
Francis Chan, The Straits Times Jakarta Post 30 Aug 16;

Satellites detected almost 700 fires across Kalimantan and Sumatra last week, as the thick haze from land burning on the two Indonesian islands began blanketing the skies over Malaysia and Singapore.

However, the data from Global Forest Watch (GFW) also found that 60 percent of the fires were spotted outside concession areas that were not managed by plantation firms. GFW, an initiative of American think-tank World Resources Institute, produces detailed maps and analyses of forest fires around the world.

The latest satellite information from its website largely supports the findings of Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB).

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, who heads the BNPB's data and information division, said Monday that "a majority" of fires recorded this year were started by errant individuals instead of companies.

"As we can see here on the satellite map, the fires are on the outer parts of the plantation areas," he said during a briefing at the BNPB headquarters in Jakarta.

"So very clearly, they are burning to clear land to make way for new plantings."

Sutopo was referring to farmers who still "slash and burn" - a land-clearing method known to spark uncontrollable fires that have led to the region's haze crisis.

However, six plantation firms were singled out in the GFW analysis, showing "fire alerts", which Sutopo said represented actual fires, in eight concession areas managed by the companies.

They include pulpwood firms Sumatera Riang Lestari (23 fires), Arara Abadi ( 15 ), Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper ( 12 ), Rimba Mutiara Permai (five) and Seraya Sumber Lestari (four), as well as palm oil company Karya Makmur (two).

Forest fires, mainly in Kalimantan and Sumatra, raged for more than three months towards the end of last year. The thick smoke caused more than half a million Indonesians to suffer from respiratory illnesses. At least 19 died.

However, the 697 fires recorded in Kalimantan and Sumatra from Aug 21 to Sunday marked a vast improvement when compared with the 5,724 fires detected over a similar eight-day period last year.

Sutopo said that the BNPB has recorded a 61 percent decline in the number of hot spots this year, attributing it to favorable weather conditions, as well as a more cohesive public-private sector approach in preventing and fighting fires.

He added that the government has sufficient resources to handle the fires and will not need additional assistance as it aims to put out all fires by October this year.

While climate change experts do not expect a repeat of last year's record crisis, the haze has started to impact airport operations and schools in Riau province.

Flights out of Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport in the capital Pekanbaru were disrupted at the weekend after the haze caused visibility to fall to just 2 km.

Schools in Riau's Bengkalis regency were closed Monday after it was hit by thick haze that caused eye irritation and reduced visibility to around 500 m.

Less haze this year, Indonesia promises
Reuters 29 Aug 16;

Home to the world's third-largest area of tropical forests, Indonesia has been criticised by green activists and by neighbouring Southeast Asian nations for failing to stop the region's annual haze, largely caused by forest-clearing for palm and pulp plantations.

The pollution in 2015 cost Southeast Asia economic powerhouse Singapore S$700 million ($517 million), the country's environment and water resources minister said in March.

An unusually wet dry season linked to the La Nina weather phenomenon this year has helped stop fires from spreading, Nugroho said. Based on weather forecasts the dry season will peak in September and end in October, Nugroho said.

"So for that one month we will really keep everything under control," he said.

Singapore on Monday got a break from the haze that hit the island state last week, as shifting winds pushed the smoke from Indonesia's Sumatra island northward over Malaysia.

There, air quality in Kuala Lumpur neared "unhealthy" levels and residents took to social media to complain about poor visibility and an acrid smell.

Despite Indonesian President Joko Widodo's instructions to end the annual blight "the sooner the better", the problem won't go away without an imporovement of preventative measures, Nugroho said.

"There is no way we can completely eliminate or end the forest and land fires in Indonesia, because they are very much linked to behaviours of communities that light fires," he said, referring to farmers who use fires to prepare land for crops and clear it for plantations.

"There are still fires, so prevention needs to be improved."

According to the World Bank, about 35 percent of the Indonesian workforce is employed in agriculture, with palm oil and pulp-and-paper industries key contributors. Palm oil is a major growth driver for Indonesia, the world's biggest producer of the edible oil. (Additional reporting by Bill Tarrant, A. Ananthalakshmi in KUALA LUMPUR; and Bernadette Christina Munthe in JAKARTA; Editing by Alison Williams)

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