Indonesia Flags Risk of Forest Fires That Triggered 2015 Haze

Yoga Rusmana Bloomberg 25 Jul 17;

Indonesia sees the risk of forest and land fires increasing until the peak of dry season in September, reigniting concerns of a repeat of 2015 haze that enveloped much of Southeast Asia.

Satellite images showed 170 hotspots across the country, including 35 in Aceh province on Sumatra island, 44 in East Nusa Tenggara and 21 in West Kalimantan, according to the National Disaster Management Authority. Affected areas also include other parts of Sumatra, Kalimantan on Borneo, Java and Sulawesi, the agency known as BNPB said on Twitter.

Stinging smoke from the illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations blanketed Singapore, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand for over a month in 2015. Besides prompting school closures and disrupting sea and air travel in the region, the smog also forced some in Indonesia to flee their homes. The haze also cost Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, $16.1 billion of losses, according to World Bank estimates.

The event in 2015 prompted several palm oil producers to increase efforts to prevent forest fires. Sime Darby Bhd. and IOI Corp Bhd. joined Fire Free Alliance to support Indonesian government efforts to prevent land burning. The program covers more than 200 villages, measuring at least 1.5 million hectares of land in various parts of Indonesia, and encourages citizens to participate in community-based fire prevention initiatives.

The disaster agency has stepped up efforts to fight the fire in western Aceh, caused by land clearing on peatlands and mineral soil by local residents, it said. Efforts to put out the fires have been hampered by limited road access, water sources and fire-fighting facility, it said.

Separately, President Joko Widodo asked ministers and governors to enforce a moratorium on new permits to clear forest and peatlands for another two years, the cabinet secretariat said in a statement Tuesday. The ban issued in 2011 has now been extended twice as environment groups and consumers including Unilever and Nestle SA push for production of palm oil that’s certified as sustainable.


Indonesia's disaster agency says forest fire threat to escalate
Reuters 25 Jul 17;

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) has warned of an escalating threat of forest fires with the dry season expected to peak in coming months, while hot spots detected in the province of Aceh have already been causing choking smoke.

Fires had spread to around 64 hectares (158 acres) of fields and forests in Aceh, a northern province on the island of Sumatra, producing haze and some residents had been taken to hospital due to breathing problem, the agency said on Tuesday.

"The peak of the dry season is predicted to be in August and September, so the threat of forest and field fires, and drought will escalate," Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for BNPB said in a statement.

The fires in Aceh started on Tuesday last week and authorities are still trying to extinguish them in some areas.

Meanwhile, a satellite image showed 170 hot spots across Indonesia as of Monday evening, Nugroho said.

Indonesia is regularly hit by forest fires, which can result in choking smoke blowing across to neighboring countries like Singapore and Malaysia.

Indonesia suffered some its worst forest fires in 2015, hitting mainly the island of Sumatra and in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo island.

The World Bank, citing government data, said that 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of land in Indonesia burned between June and October 2015, causing $16 billion of estimated economic damage.

Draining and conversion of peatland, often driven by palm oil plantations, contributed to the intensity of haze from the fires, the World Bank said.

The head of Indonesia's Peatland Restoration Agency told a conference in May there would be "no more haze going to the neighbors", as authorities implemented new measure to combat fires, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported.

Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry said on Monday she wanted to make permanent a current moratorium on issuing new licenses to use land designated as primary forest and peatland.

By November last year, the government has put more than 66 million hectares under the coverage of the moratorium.

Reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe and Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Ed Davies


Fires burn 64 hectares of land in West Aceh
The Jakarta Post 25 Jul 17;

Fires spread across 64 hectares of forest and peatland have been reported in five districts in West Aceh regency, Aceh.

Three residents suffering from respiratory problems caused by the haze were rushed to the Cut Nyak Dhien Regional Hospital in Meulaboh, West Aceh, on Sunday, kompas.com reported.

According to data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), Johan Pahlawan district was the most affected district with 19 hectares of peatland reportedly burnt while the Arongan Lambalek and Meureubo districts each recorded 15 hectares of burnt land.

Ten hectares were reportedly burnt in Sama Tiga district while five hectares of burnt peatland was reported in Woyla district.

The fires were allegedly caused by local farmers' slash-and-burn practices, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a statement.

Read also: West Kalimantan readies 4 choppers for water bombing

The BNPB, in collaboration with the police, the military and the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), have intensified efforts to control the fire and haze, Sutopo said.

“Challenges include difficulty in accessing the locations of the fires, a lack of firefighting vehicles and equipment, as well as a lack of water sources near the fire spots,” he said.

According to data collected by Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Aqua and Terra satellites and a National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan) SNNP satellite, 170 hotspots were detected across Indonesia, 35 of which were in Aceh. (yon/bbs)


West Kalimantan readies 4 choppers for water bombing
Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 25 Jul 17;

Authorities in West Kalimantan have prepared four helicopters for water bombing operations as the dry season, predicted to take place from August to October, has the potential to trigger land and forest fires, which may lead to a haze disaster.

Mega Fitriyawita, a forecaster with the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that radars in several locations had begun to detect a number of hot spots.

On Sunday, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites detected seven hot spots in four out of 14 regencies and municipalities across West Kalimantan. On Monday, the number of hot spots increased to 23, which spread in seven regencies, according to the Modis sensor satellites.

In May, local authorities announced an emergency alert status to handle a haze disaster caused by land and forest fires. The status will take effect until October.

West Kalimantan Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head TTA Nyarong said the province’s administration had anticipated the condition by preparing four helicopters for water bombing operations, and by activating disaster mitigation command posts in several disaster-prone areas.

Peatlands with the highest burning potential are spread across 174 out of 2,031 villages in 14 regencies and municipalities across West Kalimantan. Mappings show that two regencies have the highest number of villages prone to land and forest fires.

“They are Ketapang, which has 45 fire-prone villages, and Sintang with 34 villages. Other regencies have up to18 villages [prone to land and forest fires]," Nyarong said. (afr/ebf)


Indonesia warns of forest fires escalating in dry season
Straits Times 25 Jul 17;

JAKARTA • Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) has warned of an escalating threat of forest fires with the dry season expected to peak in coming months, while hot spots detected in the province of Aceh have already been causing choking smoke.

Fires had spread to around 64 hectares of fields and forests in Aceh, a northern province on the island of Sumatra, producing haze, and some residents had been taken to hospital due to breathing problem, the agency said yesterday.

"The peak of the dry season is predicted to be in August and September, so the threat of forest and field fires, and drought will escalate," Mr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a BNPB spokesman said in a statement.

The fires in Aceh started on July 18 and the authorities are still trying to extinguish them in some areas. Satellite images showed 170 hot spots across the country, including 35 in Aceh province on Sumatra island, 44 in East Nusa Tenggara and 21 in West Kalimantan, according to the National Disaster Management Authority.

The BNPB said on Twitter that affected areas also include other parts of Sumatra, Kalimantan on Borneo, Java and Sulawesi.

West Kalimantan Disaster Mitigation Agency head TTA Nyarong said the province's administration had anticipated the condition by preparing four helicopters for water bombing operations, and by activating disaster mitigation command posts in several disaster-prone areas.

Indonesia is regularly hit by forest fires, which can result in choking smoke blowing across to neighbouring countries like Singapore and Malaysia.

Indonesia suffered some its worst forest fires in 2015, mainly in the island of Sumatra and in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo island.

The World Bank, citing government data, said that 2.6 million hectares of land in Indonesia burned between June and October 2015, causing US$16 billion (S$22 billion) of estimated economic damage.

Draining and conversion of peatland, often driven by oil-palm plantations, contributed to the intensity of haze from the fires.

The head of Indonesia's Peatland Restoration Agency told a conference in May there would be "no more haze going to the neighbours", as the authorities implemented new measures to fight the fires.

The Indonesian government has extended a moratorium on issuing new licences to land designed as forest and peatland for another two years, the presidential office said yesterday.

The move is partly aimed at protecting the ecosystem, restoring peatland after forest fires, and reducing emissions.

President Joko Widodo inked a presidential instruction on the extension of the moratorium.

"I instruct to continue moratorium on awarding a new licence for land designed as primary forest and peatland located in conservation forest, protected forest, and productive forest," the statement said.

The ban issued in 2011 has now been extended twice as environment groups and consumers, including Unilever and Nestle, push for production of palm oil that is certified as sustainable.

By November last year, the government had put more than 66 million hectares under the coverage of the moratorium.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, XINHUA, THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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