Indonesia starts cloud seeding operations

Joyce Lim Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Indonesia Correspondent In Dumai (Riau Province)
Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Indonesia yesterday began cloud seeding operations and water bombing of raging fires on plantations in Riau, after declaring a state of emergency in the area.

Three helicopters, a Cassa aircraft and an air force Hercules took off from Pekanbaru Airport in Riau at 5pm to begin those operations, said Mr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia's disaster management agency.

"The operations will continue today, until enough rain is successfully induced," he said.

As of 9pm, no rain had been reported in the Dumai and Bengkalis regencies - two of the three areas reporting hot spots.

But the water bombing had apparently helped improve conditions in Singapore.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) to take over fire- extinguishing efforts in Riau, the agency's emergency response director Tri Budiarto told The Jakarta Post.

BNPB also said it had deployed two helicopters last Friday to spray water and one aircraft for cloud seeding.

The measures came as Singapore and Malaysia moved to address concerns over haze.

Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan travelled to Jakarta last Friday as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's special envoy to discuss the crisis. Malaysia has said it would send its environment minister to Jakarta on Wednesday.

Earlier yesterday, several Indonesian ministers and officials visited hot spots in Bengkalis, Rokan Hilir and Dumai city.

"Fire in Rokan Hilir regency and Dumai city continued unabated yesterday, with the wind above these areas blowing east, towards Singapore," said Mr Sutopo.

"The winds above Pelalawan and Indragiri districts blew towards the south."

As investigators tried to determine the causes of the worst haze crises ever to hit Singapore, Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya identified eight companies out of at least 14 that he said are being investigated in connection with the fires.

The ones named are PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo, PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati, PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation, PT Udaya Loh Dinawi, PT Adei Plantation, PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, PT Multi Gambut Industri and PT Mustika Agro Lestari.

Separately, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan has cautioned that accusations against any companies should not be made without proof.

Mr Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan, director of Forest Fire Control, who visited a hot spot on the border of Dumai and Rokan Hilir regency with Mr Zulkifli yesterday, agreed.

He said that it was farmers who started the fires, which "spread to the bigger plantations owned by bigger companies. These companies should not be blamed for starting the fires".

Mr Zulkifli also said it was time for Indonesians to change their culture of burning land.

"Whether it's companies or local farmers, please stop the burning to clear land for planting, as we are all witnessing the tremendous consequences right now," he said.

But just as The Sunday Times team was about to leave the hot spot, a farmer started yet another fire.

When asked why he did so, Mr Mulia Manurung, 50, said: "My burning will not affect the quality of air as my plot of land is considered small, unlike the burning done by the bigger companies.

"Besides, it's dirt land, not peatland, and I have water canals surrounding the land."

Haze update: Indonesian government declares state of emergency in Riau
Straits Times 22 Jun 13;

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Indonesian government has declared a state of emergency in Riau, following worsening haze from forest fires in three regencies and municipalities in the province.

The haze is from forest fires in the regencies of Bengkalis and Rokan Hilir and Dumai City.

"The President has instructed the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) to take over fire extinguishing efforts in Riau, starting on Friday," the BNPB emergency response director Tri Budiarto said on Friday.

The agency said it had deployed two helicopters on Friday to spray water from the air and one aircraft for cloud seeding efforts in the burning areas, starting on Saturday.

Riau Deputy Governor Mambang Mit added that cloud seeding efforts would be the last solution because the conventional techniques had met difficulties extinguishing the fires.

"The weather conditions, which are very dry and windy, and the locations of fires, which are inaccessible to vehicles, have slowed efforts to put out the fires. The only solution is cloud seeding," he said.

He said that the Riau administration was currently investigating the involvement of some firms in the forest fires.

He did not deny the fact that in the previous years a number of plantation companies made use of the dry weather to clear their areas for planting.

"The authorities will take strong measures against them if there is enough evidence," he said, adding that the legal process would be handled by the police.

According the data from the Forestry Ministry, the total areas gutted by the fires have reached 3,709 hectares in 10 out 12 regencies and municipalities in Riau, where Rokan Hilir and Bengkalis have been the most heavily affected.

Number of Sumatra`s fire hot spots drops significantly
Antara 22 Jun 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The NOAA satellite detected 21 hot spots from forest, plantation and peatland fires across Sumatra, including 13 in Riau Province, on Friday.

"The number is much less than on the previous days," Tri Puryanti, an analyst of Pekanbaru meteorological, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG), said here on Saturday.

Of the 21 hot spots, five were found in Jambi, 13 in Riau, one in North Sumatra, and two in Bangka Belitung.

On Thursday, the satellite detected 25 hot spots in Sumatra, including 22 in Riau Province, a drastic drop from 142 hot spots on Wednesday.

The 142 hot spots in Riau were found earlier in 11 districts and cities, namely 35 in Rokan Hilir District, 25 in Pelalawan, 23 in Indragiri Hilir, 14 in Siak, 12 in Bengkalis, 10 in Indragiri Hulu, nine in Rokan Hulu, six in Kampar, four in Dumai, three in Kuantan Singingi, and one in Pekanbaru.

In addition to fire control efforts on the ground, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) made a weather modification over Riau and sent water bombs to extinguish the fires by using the Indonesian military`s helicopters.

KR-FZR (f001 )

Editor: Aditia Maruli

Forestry Minister in Riau to inspect forest fire control
Antara 22 Jun 13;

Dumai, Riau (ANTARA News) - Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan led a coordinating meeting on forest and plantation fire control here on Saturday.

A number of personnel from forest fire brigade "Manggala Agni", military, police and forest rangers were present in the event.

Minister Zulkifli Hasan was accompanied by the chairman of the National Disaster Mitigation Office (BNPB), Deputy Governor of Riau Mambang Mit, Dumai Mayor Khairul Anwar, and Bengkali District Head Jon Erizal.

Meanwhile, Environmental Affairs Minister Balthasar Kambuaya alleged that a number of foreign firms are involved in the current forest and woodland fires in Riau province.

"It seems that (the fires) also involved foreign firms," he said in the State Palace compounds in Jakarta on Friday.

He said investigation is still underway to prove the alleged involvement of eight companies in the forest and woodland fires.

The NOAA-15 satellite early this week detected 234 hot spots across Sumatra, particularly in Riau, Jambi and North Sumatra Provinces on June 29.

Around 850 hectares of peatland areas were gutted by fires, but at least 460 hectares were put out by Indonesian fire brigade teams. According to recent reports, one person was killed and another was injured due to the disaster.

In Rokan Hilir District, Riau Province, 164 people fled Kepenghuluan Bangko Bakti village which has been blanketed by thick haze. Villagers of neighboring Kepenghuluan Teluk Bano are also preparing themselves for evacuation to emergency tents away from their village.

Several flights were postponed or cancelled and Sultan Syarif Kasim (SSK) II Airport in Pekanbaru, Riau Island, was shut down temporarily due to the haze.

The smoky haze from Sumatra has also affected Indonesia`s neighboring countries. Singapore has urged people to remain indoors amid unprecedented levels of air pollution, while Malaysia has closed 200 schools and banned open burning in some areas.
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Editor: Aditia Maruli

Foreign firms allegedly involved in Riau forest fires
Antara 22 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya has alleged that a number of foreign firms are involved in the current forest and woodland fires in Riau province.

"It seems that (the fires) also involved foreign firms," he said in the State Palace compounds in Jakarta on Friday.

He said investigation is still underway to prove the alleged involvement of eight companies in the forest and woodland fires.

But he stopped short of revealing the companies.

"Let us wait and see," he said.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the government has made an optimum effort to prevent forest fire-induced haze from spreading to neighboring Singapore.

Marty said the Indonesian government has coordinated with the Singapore government to resolve the problem.

To resolve the problem the governments of the two countries have formed a technical forum involving relevant ministries to overcome the haze, he said.

Marty said on Wednesday that the Singapore government had conveyed its concern over fires in Sumatra that had caused haze in the neighboring country.

On Thursday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered all ministries and relevant institutions to put out the forest and woodland fires in one month.

"The President has given us directives that hotspots and haze in Sumatra should be overcome immediately," Chief Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa told a press conference after a cabinet ministers` plenary meeting on Thursday.

Reporting by M. Arif Iskandar and GNC Aryani


Editor: Aditia Maruli

Riau folk seemingly unfazed by doubly thick haze
Reports by ZAZALI MUSA and LIM CHENG KIAT from RIAU, Indonesia
The Star 23 Jun 13;

Poor visibility: Pekanbaru in Indonesia covered in smog as early as 7am. The haze there is twice as bad as in Malaysia but the locals seem unfazed by it. Poor visibility: Pekanbaru in Indonesia covered in smog as early as 7am. The haze there is twice as bad as in Malaysia but the locals seem unfazed by it.

PEKANBARU (Riau, Indonesia): The moment photographer Lim Cheng Kiat and I stepped out of our plane at the Sultan Syarif Kassim II Airport here, we were assailed by acrid smoke that burned our eyes and choked our lungs.

Although it was already night, the air was very warm. By the time we got into the bus taking us to our hotel, our eyes were already watery and, despite our face masks, the haze was causing a burning sensation in our noses.

However, other passengers in the bus, who did not even use face masks, seemed unperturbed by the thick and smoky air.

We had just arrived in Pekanbaru from Jakarta at abut 7.10pm Friday to cover the open burning in areas around Riau that is contributing to much of the haze problem in Malaysia in the last week.

Throughout the 7km journey to our hotel along Jalan Jenderal Sudirman in this capital city of Riau, we prayed that we would arrive safely as the visibility was very poor.

Our driver Pak Baharuddin told us that he could hardly see the vehicles in front of him, which were about 10m metres away.

Baharuddin, who has been a driver for 10 years, said locals had expected the haze to come around this time of the year.

“Ya pak, kita di sini udah biasa sama kabutnya, enggak ada apa-apa yang harus khuatir (Yes sir, we are used to this smog, there is nothing to worry about),” he said.

Arriving at the four-star hotel, we were surprised to see that none of the guests and staff were wearing face masks although the air-conditioned lobby was enveloped in thick smoke. We looked out of place with our face masks on.

From our hotel window, we saw many people strolling around the hotel grounds while a small group gathered around a fountain in the courtyard, seemingly enjoying the smoky night air.

Baharuddin had told us that the haze started about a week ago and the culprits were big farming companies and smallholders.

According to him, it was normal for farmers to slash and burn and the authorities seemed powerless to stop this as it has been common practice here for as long as he could remember.

Asked why the locals did not put on face masks while outdoors, Baharuddin said they did not see the need to do so as they “could still breathe”.

At between RM2 and RM3 each, the masks were quite expensive for most of the locals, he said.

Baharuddin was surprised when told that many schools in Johor had been closed because the schools in Pekanbaru, where the situation was doubly worse, were all open.

Earlier, arriving in Jakarta from Changi Airport, we were struck by the clear and bright sky, which was in sharp contrast to the situation in Sumatra and back home where the pollutant index had tipped the 300 mark and in Singapore where it had surpassed 400.