Indonesia: Hot spots increase in West Kalimantan

Jakarta Post 20 Aug 16;

The number of hot spots in West Kalimantan increased to 636 on Friday, raising concerns that thick haze could disrupt flights at Supadio Airport in Pontianak.

Bayuh Iswantoro, the Pontianak general manager of airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II, said his office had prepared for possible haze in the near future.

“Internally, we have maintained the readiness of our facilities. We have ensured the instrument landing system is in a primary condition,” Bayuh said Friday.

In anticipation of thick haze that could disrupt flights, Bayuh said his office had also discussed delay management with some airlines.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has recorded 636 hot spots in 13 regencies and cities in the province as of 7 a.m. on Thursday.

Since Aug. 1, rainfall has decreased in the province.

Concerns grow in Pontianak as number of hot spots increases
Severianus Endi and Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 19 Aug 16;

The number of hot spots in West Kalimantan has increased rapidly in the past two weeks, from a dozen to over 100, raising concerns over air pollution and the disruption of flights at the province’s Supadio Airport.

Haze resulting from forest fires has covered Dumai, Riau, too.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, detected 177 hot spots in nine of the province’s 14 regencies or cities as of Wednesday morning.

In anticipation of potential haze, the West Kalimantan Disaster Mitigation Agency plans to soon bring two helicopters to the province, like it did last year.

“The helicopters are needed for water bombing and air patrols,” the agency’s head, TTA Nyarong, said on Thursday.

As part of the province’s readiness, he said the provincial administration had established a taskforce to anticipate potential technical problems.

Another taskforce has been set up specifically to organize mass prayers to ask for rain.

Nyarong said, however, that compared to last year, the number of hot spots had decreased by 80 percent due to the absence of the El NiƱo weather phenomenon.

By August last year, 1,000 hot spots had been detected. This year, for the same period, the figure is just 200.

Haze has also been routinely detected at night and in the morning across the region although so far the haze has not disrupted flight activities at Supadio Airport in Pontianak.

Meanwhile, at least eight persons have been questioned by the police as witnesses in forest and land fire cases in the province. West Kalimantan Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Suhadi SW said the witnesses were land owners, workers and owners of the land next to the burned hectares.

“It’s not impossible that they will be named suspects,” said Suhadi, adding that a map organized by a joint team of stakeholders showed that 135 subdistricts in the province were prone to fires and were under monitoring.

Last year, the police processed 35 forest and land fire cases, four of which allegedly involved corporations. The other 31 involved individuals. Later, the four cases were dropped due to a lack of evidence.

Pontianak Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Iwan Iman Susilo said his office had so far examined two persons alleged to have cleared land by burning it. The fire allegedly spread to the land bordering their own.

“There are a number of other cases that are still under investigation. Some other cases were dropped due to a lack of supporting evidence,” Iwan said.

West Kalimantan Governor Cornelis called on the owners of oil palm plantation concessions to build artificial lakes or canals to hold water in anticipation of fires.

“Every region has established a fire alert post so people can participate and not just depend on the apparatus,” Cornelis said.

Meanwhile in Riau, the provincial forest and land emergency alert taskforce has succeeded in decreasing the number of hot spots in the province. However, smoke is still emanating from burned land in the area.

Data from the Terra and Aqua satellites collected by the BMKG’s Pekanbaru station showed that as of Thursday morning, there were only 43 hot spots left in Riau, while a day before, the figure was 278, the highest so far this year.

“Of the hotspots detected, 22 are indicated to be fires, with a 70 percent reliability level,” station head Sugarin said on Thursday.

He said the regions confronting forest and land fires included Pujud, Rimba Melintang and Tanah Putih districts in Rokan Hilir, Teluk Meranti in Pelalawan, Bonai Darussalam, Rambah Hilir and Rokan IV Koto in Rokan Hulu and Batang Cenaku in Indragiri Hulu.

Sugarin said forest and land fires had caused haze in the subdistricts located around the fire spots as well as in the city of Dumai on Thursday morning, decreasing visibility from 8 kilometers to just 5 kilometers in Dumai.

Separately, Catur Hargowo, the head of the technical managing unit at Pinang Kampai Airport in Dumai, said the haze on Thursday had not yet disrupted flights at the pioneer airport.

Indonesia urges action against slash-and-burn clearing as haze season arrives
Bernadette Christina Munthe and Glenys Kirana Reuters 19 Aug 16;

Indonesia's disaster agency urged prompt action against slash-and-burn plantation fires on Friday as the annual smoke "haze" begins to drift across the Malacca Strait to neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.

Fires in Indonesia, set in the dry season by companies clearing land for plantations, cause an annual crisis that at times blankets large parts of the region in choking smog, closing airports and schools and prompting warnings to residents to stay indoors.

Home to the world's third-largest area of tropical forests, Indonesia has been criticized by green activists and by neighboring Southeast Asian nations for failing to stop the annual fires.

"Smoke from forest and land fires in Riau has started to enter the Malacca Strait. Let's prevent and put out the fires," agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said on his Twitter account @Sutopo_BNPB on Friday, referring to a district on the main island of Sumatra.

He said that over the past week, the numbers of fire "hotspots" in West Kalimantan, on the nearby island of Borneo, had "increased significantly."

Dry weather that complicates firefighting efforts would reach its peak in September, Nugroho told Reuters, noting that the "critical period" for fires was from August to October.

The government's early announcement of a state of emergency for fires in five provinces this year had helped to prevent them from spreading as extensively as in 2015, he said, when El Nino made the problem worse.

"Countermeasures, including the response from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, have been faster and better. Last year the emergency status was declared only after the fires were widespread," he said.

Heavy smoke from slash-and-burn clearing often comes from the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, where large forest concessions are used by pulp and paper and palm oil companies, some of which are listed in Singapore.

"As we go through the legal process, all the information will be publicly available," Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said on Thursday.

Indonesia imposed record fines against a local plantation company last week in the hope of deterring companies and individuals from using fire to clear land.

(Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Indonesia in haze warning as fires flare
Channel NewsAsia 19 Aug 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia warned Friday (Aug 19) that haze from forest fires was floating over a key waterway towards its neighbours, and that the number of blazes was rising.

The fires and resulting smog are an annual dry season problem in the archipelago, when blazes are started illegally to quickly and cheaply clear land, typically to make way for palm oil and pulpwood plantations.

But last year's haze outbreak was among the worst in memory, shrouding Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Thailand in acrid smoke. The crisis forced school closures and caused thousands to fall sick across the region.

While this year's fires have yet to reach the levels of 2015, the number has been rising in recent weeks as Indonesia heads towards its peak dry season in September.

Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho warned that smoke had Thursday started floating across the Malacca Strait, which runs between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

"Smoke from forest and land fires in Riau (province) has started to enter the Malacca Strait," he tweeted.

"Let's prevent and put out the fires."

Riau, on western Sumatra island, is a major centre of the palm oil and pulpwood industry, and many fires occur there every year.

He also said the number of "hotspots" detected by satellites -- areas of intense heat that are either already on fire or vulnerable to going up in flames -- had increased in West Kalimantan province, on Indonesia's part of Borneo island.

A total of 158 hotspots were detected in the province on Friday, up from 106 a day earlier.

The governor of the province, a centre of the palm oil industry, had asked the disaster agency to provide helicopters for water-bombing and "cloud-seeding", or chemically inducing rain, said Nugroho.

Indonesia has faced intense criticism from its neighbours and the international community over its failure to halt the annual smog outbreaks.

Jakarta has promised tougher action. It has announced a plan to stop granting new land for palm oil plantations, and established an agency to restore millions of hectares of carbon-rich peatlands susceptible to fires.

- AFP/mn

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