Indonesia: More hot spots recorded in West Kalimantan

Severianus Endi and Novi Abdi The Jakarta Post 14 Sep 16;

The number of hot spots across West Kalimantan province has been growing since early this week with some 400 of them detected on Tuesday, increasing from only 140 the previous day.

Despite the high number of hot spots, thick haze was nevertheless not seen in Pontianak, the provincial capital, or in the surrounding regions, thanks to rain of light to medium capacity that has fallen on the areas for the last three weeks.

Giri Darmono of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said West Kalimantan never experienced full rainy or dry seasons given its location on the equator.

“The dry season here is called the wet dry because there is always a possibility for rain to fall, like what happened in the last three weeks,” Giri said.

As of 6 a.m. on Tuesday, he said, 403 hot spots were detected across the province in eight of its 14 regencies and cities. The highest number of hot spots was detected in Ketapang regency, which had 172, followed by Melawi with 78, Sintang with 57, Sekadau with 42 and others with less than 25.

Giri said haze had not yet affected visibility. Between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. visibility was recorded at between 2,000 and 3,000 meters and it returned to a normal 10,000 meters after 8 a.m.

The West Kalimantan Disaster Mitigation Agency’s (BPBD) emergency and logistics division head, Bosman D. Hutahaean, said four helicopters had been deployed to water bomb the area.

A Casa 212 had been in operation to spread 12,800 kilograms of salt for cloud seeding to help speed up the rains.

“Today water bombings will be conducted over the North Kayong, Ketapang and Sanggau regencies with maximum flight capabilities of three-and-a-half hours,” Bosman said.

Of the 14 regencies and cities in West Kalimantan, 10 have declared emergency alert statuses for forest and land fires. Also, as many as 3,500 personnel had been deployed to fight the fires.

Provisional data showed that 600.6 hectares of forest and land had caught on fire throughout 2016 so far. They comprised 509 hectares of land belonging to individuals, 1.6 hectares of plantations and 90 hectares of conservation area.

Separately, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, in his release on Monday, said the source of fires came from land clearing for plantations and agriculture in the Sekadau, Ketapang, Landak and Sanggau regencies.

He said thin haze was also spotted in the Katingan regency in Central Kalimantan.

Meanwhile, light and medium intensity rains helped provinces of East Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and North Kalimantan keep free from smoky haze, allowing residents to enjoy clean air.

“It is very likely that this year will be safe [from haze], but we will always be on alert over potential land and forest fires,” said Nunuk Kasiyanto, a volunteer firefighter.

The head of the Balikpapan BMKG, Imam Mashudi, described the continuing rainfall during the dry season that had occurred since early this year as a “wet dry season”.

House to summon companies allegedly behind fires
Marguerite Afra Sapiie The Jakarta Post 15 Sep 16;

The House of Representatives committee investigating forest fires will summon 15 companies alleged to have been responsible for land and forest fires in order to get to the bottom of why terminations of investigation (SP3s) into the companies’ activities were issued by Riau Police.

The committee's chairperson Benny K. Harman said that lawmakers had found an indication of manipulation during the process of the SP3 issuance. For example, he added, the police did not send notification letters on the investigation orders (SPDP) to the Riau Prosecutor’s Office when they named the companies as suspects, but then unilaterally issued the SP3s, citing reasons such as a lack of evidence.

"We want to ensure the transparency and accountability of the mechanism and the background [of the SP3 issuance]," Benny told reporters on Wednesday.

Benny said the public wanted to know whether the issuances followed a legal process or whether non-legal aspects influenced the decisions. The hearing with the companies are expected in the next five weeks.

Before summoning the 15 companies, the committee plans to summon Environment and Forestry Ministry officials to obtain more accurate data on the companies, Benny said, especially to verify whether the companies had valid production-forest concession permits and to ascertain further facts behind the forest fires allegedly started by them. (dan)

Haze-free Riau after 18 years
Sujadi Siswo Channel NewsAsia 14 Sep 16;

JAKARTA: For the first time in 18 years, the Indonesian province of Riau in Sumatra has managed to prevent haze caused by raging forest fires, from choking the province.

Last year was especially bad - Riau and five other provinces in Indonesia declared states of emergency because of the haze, and schools and airports were shut down.

The region was also affected with the haze spreading to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

But early intervention this year, has helped prevent a repeat of the situation.

Residents of Pekanbaru in Riau are enjoying the outdoors once again after years of being choked by haze from forest fires this time of year.

Air quality and visibility have been in the moderate range in most days and in most areas.

At its peak last year, there were more than a thousand hotspots in Riau alone, compared to just over a hundred detected this year.

And with the rainy season now on its way, it appears the worst is over.

“The peak of the dry season has passed. It was predicted to be from June and August. In fact we forecast some parts of Riau should have experienced some rain," said Aristya Ardhitama, a climatologist at the Riau Meteorological Agency.

This year, the Indonesian authorities acted early to prevent forest fires - a lesson they learned from last year's catastrophe, when the haze reached hazardous levels.

As early as six months ago, authorities declared a state of emergency in Riau and 5 other provinces, enabling more resources to be deployed.

More than 6,000 personnel were mobilised in Riau province alone, assisted by firefighting planes equipped to douse the fires and prevent them from spreading.

Cloud-seeding operations were also carried out to induce rain.

Edwar Sanger, the head of the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency said: “According to the meteorological agency rainy season starts in October. Therefore if we can maintain the current smog-free situation for the next 20 days, we will create history after having suffered over the last 18 years. God willing there won’t be any more smog in Riau. This is demonstrated by no shutdown of schools and airport, no distribution of masks and so on. We are grateful.”

However, authorities are aware that forest fires and the ensuing haze will need much more time to be completely eradicated.

Most farmers still use the slash and burn practice to clear their land. Oil palm plantation companies that use them as part of their supply chain exacerbate the problem.

"We always try to educate to the communities not to stop clear the land by burning. They should find alternative ways. We've explained this," said Edwar.

Weak enforcement is another challenge, made worse by alleged corrupt practices that have been around for decades.

So, residents in Riau – for the first time in almost 2 decades – are enjoying cleaner air. But there is no guarantee this will continue when the next dry season comes along. Fighting fires for half a year every year drains resources and energy.

A more sustainable solution must be found to eradicate the haze problem. And this will take a lot more time and effort.

- CNA/mn

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