Haze unlikely to hit Singapore next week despite Indonesia fires

Today Online 27 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE — The likelihood of transboundary haze affecting the Republic is “expected to be low” for the rest of this week and next week, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Thursday (July 27), as parts of Indonesia continued to be shrouded in smoke from forest fires.

This is because “the prevailing winds over Sumatra are expected to continue to blow from the south-east or south”, it said in response to TODAY’s queries.

Six Indonesian provinces have declared states of emergency as peatlands burn and the risk of fires spreading elsewhere increased during the annual dry season.

There are currently about 180 hot spots in Indonesia — Aceh, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan provinces — but the number is significantly lower than in 2015, when haze cloaked large parts of South-east Asia.

Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported 51 hot spots in Sumatra on Thursday, of which 37 were in Aceh province. Northern Sumatra has seven hot spots, Riau four and North and South Sumatra as well as Bengkuli and Bangka Belitung each recorded one hot spot each.

A number of schools in West Aceh district were closed as a result of the smoke, while visibility at the Meulaboh airport was reported to be about 500m, according to the Indonesian media.

Hospitals have reported an increased number of people seeking treatment for respiratory ailments.

“My throat feels scratchy and uncomfortable from breathing ... smoke has even entered my house,” housewife Yus, who like most Indonesians goes by one name, told Antara news agency. As a result, many residents have left their homes, seeking shelter with relatives.

“The smoke is so thick and it seeped into our home this morning. I decided to move to my parents home as I have a two-year-old child,” said Mr Osi, a resident in the Meulaboh district that is one of the hardest hit areas.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Twitter that forest fires are still burning in West Aceh and he suspected that it was a “deliberate act” caused by those who clear their lands by the traditional slash-and-burn method. He said the authorities have deployed helicopters to conduct water bombing to put out the fires.

Devastating dry-season fires in 2015 burnt through 2.6 million hectares and blanketed Sumatra, Borneo, Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand in health-damaging haze.

Plantation companies and villagers set the illegal fires because it is a faster and, for them, less-expensive way to clear land than by using machinery.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said on Wednesday that Indonesia has given its assurances that it is fully equipped to tackle the matter, including purchasing three helicopters that have been converted to conduct water bombing activities.

“We believed such steps can avoid the pollution problem from happening this year,” he said. AGENCIES


5 Indonesian provinces on emergency alert for forest fires amid dry season
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 27 Jul 17;

JAKARTA: Amid a growing number of hotspots in Indonesia, five provinces in Indonesia are on emergency alert for the spread of forest fires in peatlands.

In a statement on Wednesday evening (Jul 26), the country's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said the five provinces are Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan.

"The status will help the local governments to fight forest fires and the decision was taken after several regencies and districts in the provinces had earlier declared an emergency alert status," said BNPB's spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

Satellite images from the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space shows the number of hotspots creeping up, from 168 on Sunday to 269 on Thursday.

But two regencies in Riau province had declared themselves to be on emergency alert as far back as January to tackle any potential forest fires that could get out of control when the weather gets drier.

Earlier this month, the district of West Aceh also said it was on emergency alert when forest fires had spread over 70 ha within a week.

By setting putting themselves on emergency alert early, regions can ask for aid from the central government to tackle small fires and prevent them from growing into bigger ones.

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Taking such anticipatory measures was one of the lessons learnt from the massive forest fires blanketing parts of Indonesia and its neighbouring countries with smog for months in 2015.

The environmental crisis destroyed 2.6 million hectares of peatlands and the World Bank estimated that it had caused US$16 billion in economic losses.

The Indonesian government had pledged to avoid a repeat of that disaster and has put in place mechanisms and processes to combat forest fires and transboundary haze. Indonesian President Joko Widodo had called for preventive measures, tougher law enforcement, more community involvement and better governance of private land and concessions.

Those measures appeared to have been effective as the number of hotspots went down by 83 per cent last year. Experts have said favourable weather conditions also helped.

Indonesia's neighbours have also shown appreciation for progress made in keeping forest fires and transboundary haze in check.

"Efforts to manage and prevent forest fires that have been done by the Riau provincial government have been very impressive," Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman told Indonesia's Antara news agency during his visit to Riau on Tuesday.

However, Indonesia is still grappling with the problem of intentional land burning. BNPB said majority of the forest fires were caused by culprits purposely using fire as an easy and cheap method to clear their land.

Over the past week, police in Palembang, South Sumatra have arrested two people for allegedly clearing land by burning.
Source: CNA/aa


Peatland fires destroy 69ha of land in West Aceh

Francis Chan Straits Times 28 Jul 17;

JAKARTA • Fires raging across carbon-rich peatland in Indonesia's West Aceh regency have destroyed some 69ha of land, including plots that belong to the local community and not companies, said National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho.

The thick smoke from the fires has forced some schools to close in the regency capital of Meulaboh.

Dozens of people, including children, are suffering lung infections from the haze.

"The fires were caused by people who clear their land using the traditional slash-and-burn method, so the fire spreads," said Dr Sutopo yesterday.

Satellites have in recent days detected more than 180 hot spots across Indonesia, mainly in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The number, however, was far lower than in 2015, when raging fires burning in Kalimantan and Sumatra led to a transboundary haze crisis that was not only the worst on record, but had also pushed Indonesia to the verge of a national emergency.

The choking haze led to widespread efforts by the government to prevent and suppress land and forest fires early.

This has kept the number of hot spots in Indonesia low since then, although experts have said favourable weather conditions also helped.

But Dr Sutopo said the dry land conditions and blistering weather in Riau islands have prompted firefighting task forces to intensify their patrols to prevent indiscriminate land burning.

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