Indonesia's Riau province declares state of emergency to combat haze

Channel NewsAsia 24 Jan 17;

JAKARTA: Indonesia's fire-prone Riau province declared a state of emergency on Tuesday (Jan 24), the disaster mitigation agency said, after President Joko Widodo urged regional authorities to avoid a repeat of fires that smothered Southeast Asia in haze in 2015.

Indonesia faces global pressure to put an end to slash-and-burn land clearances for palm and pulp plantations which send clouds of toxic smoke over the region each year.

Tuesday's move is intended to help Riau, which sits a stone's throw across the Malacca Strait from Singapore, to begin taking preventive steps as drier weather is expected in 2017 compared to 2016.

"The province of Riau today declared emergency status for forest and land fires for 96 days," National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho told Reuters.

This follows a similar move by Indonesia's Rokan Hulu and Dumai regencies in Riau, which raised their alerts over the weekend in anticipation of drier weather in the upcoming months. The emergency status would allow the central government to send aid to the regions.

The 2015 fires were among the worst on record, straining ties with neighbours, and costing Indonesia an estimated 220 trillion rupiah (US$16.5 billion) in economic losses, or about 1.9 per cent of gross domestic product, Mr Widodo's office has said.

Data from the state weather agency shows drier weather in store for Indonesia this year, which authorities fear could spark more fires.

"We hope that at the beginning of this year, there is planning and quick action (so) we can prevent forest and land fires in 2017," Mr Widodo said on Monday.

He called for preventive measures, tougher law enforcement, more community involvement, and better governance of private land and concessions.

"Check preparations for aerial operations, air patrols, rain making and water bombing. These have to move quickly from the start," the president said.

Mr Widodo thanked community stakeholders and authorities for their efforts to prevent and douse fires in 2016, when hotspots were reduced by 83 per cent.

"The reduction was drastic," he added.

($1=13,330 rupiah) (Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

- Reuters/CNA/nc

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