Indonesia: Clear days welcomed as thousands recover

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Ina Parlina, The Jakarta Post 19 Mar 14;

Hotel operators in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, are upbeat as the haze that engulfed the tourist city for more than a month is now receding, while thousands of Riau residents are also now recovering from respiratory illnesses.

The head of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association’s Bukittinggi chapter, Syafroni Falian, said hotel operators were excited as the air had been clear since Sunday.

“We are also glad the media has reported that the haze is receding, so our guests will return to Bukittinggi for vacations and to hold meetings,” Syafroni said on Tuesday.

According to Syafroni, the haze that blanketed Bukittinggi for more than a month caused a drop in hotel occupancy rates of between 25 and 30 percent. The worst impact was felt when the haze was at its densest, which caused rates to drop by up to 60 percent over a period of five days.

“The impact has been really felt as January to March is still low season [when there is] an occupancy rate of between 35 and 40 percent,” he said.

Apart from hotels, a number of tourist sites in Bukittinggi have also struggled as a result of the haze. The number of visitors to the Bukittinggi Wildlife and Cultural Park and Bukittinggi Japanese Cave, for instance, dropped by 60 percent.

As of Tuesday at noon, the air quality in several areas in Riau had also improved, according to National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

“The air quality in Riau is better than before. The ISPU [air pollution standards index] in Pekanbaru is 71, or mid-level, in Duri Camp [the level is] 26, or good and in Petapahan [it is] 37, or good,” Sutopo said.

Sutopo also said the Riau Health Agency reported that only two patients were still being treated for haze-related illness.

Previously, the agency recorded that as many as 61,647 Riau residents had suffered from haze-related illnesses, including acute respiratory infections, pneumonia and skin and eye irritation between Feb. 1 and March 18.

Meanwhile, National Police chief Gen. Sutarman reiterated that the police would take a tough stance on dealing with those involved in the land-burning activities that caused the thick haze in Riau.

“The shoot [on sight] measure is at the discretion of the police; there was no order [to do so],” Sutarman said on the sidelines of an event at the Vice Presidential Office on Tuesday. “However, if the offenders harm the police or other people, the police should use their weapons; those are the guidelines.”

Media outlets have reported that Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan also called for culprits to be shot on sight if they resisted arrest.

Separately, the Forestry Anti-Mafia Coalition demanded that the government improve the timber legality verification system (SVLK), in light of its failure to eradicate illegal logging.

“Many corporations seem to have complied with the system, but actually they are continuing to bribe officials in order to get verification,” said Emerson Yuntho, law division coordinator for the Indonesia Corruption Watch. (gda)

Rains Quell Riau Hotspots
Jakarta Globe 18 Mar 14;

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; Minister of Home Affairs Gamawan Fauzi, left; Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi, right; and BNPB head Syamsul Maarif, second from left, surrounded by haze in Pekanbaru, Riau province, on March 16. (AFP Photo/ Rizki)

Jakarta. The Riau branch of the Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) announced on Tuesday that Sumatra was finally free of hotspots after months of thick haze disrupted flights, caused school cancellations and made nearly 60,000 people ill in the province.

“In Sumatra, there are no hotspot detectable by satellite,” Riau BPBD head Said Saqlul Amri said, as quoted by state-run Antara news agency. The province had not been hotspot free for three months, according to information obtained in frequent scans by NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites.

On Sunday, four fires remained burning, inducing one in Riau’s Indragiri Hilir district.

Riau’s BPBD chief said the fires had been doused in the past few days by heavy rains in the region, which the Pekanbaru branch of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said would likely continue for several days.

“The cloud growth is getting better and, with the application of weather-modification technology, we expect more rain,” Pekanbaru BMKG head Sugarin said.

The Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) was charged with cloud seeding in the region, dispersing 29.9 tons of silver iodide in Riau’s skies over the past few weeks.

“Weather-modification technology has successfully induced rainfall on some regions of Riau,” national BNPB chief Agus Wibowo said, as quoted by Antara.

Riau Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Cmr. Guntur Aryo Tejo on Tuesday said 66 haze-related arrests had been made — one corporate employee and the rest individual farmers.

“The number could still grow because there are some other cases which are still being investigated,” he said on Tuesday, as quoted by Indonesian news portal He said that five suspects were being sought actively.

Riau provincial health official Zainal Arifin said on Monday that the provincial capital, Pekanbaru, along with the Rokan Hilir, Bengkalis and Dumai districts, had borne the brunt of the public health impact.

“Hopefully, rain in some regions over the past few days could decrease the haze pollution and the number of people suffering from diseases caused by haze won’t increased anymore,” he said, according to local news portal

At the peak of this year’s haze season, over 1,000 fires were recorded by satellites burning in Sumatra’s forests and peatlands.

Riau forest fires claim three lives
Antara 18 Mar 14;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The forest, plantation and peat-soil fires razing in Riau Province over the past two months, have claimed three lives.

The first victim, an asthma patient from Pelalawan district, was chocked to death due to the smog haze coming from the fires, according to information from the Riau Haze Disaster Mitigation Task Force on Tuesday.

The second victim, identified as Muhammad Adli, 63, died after falling into burning peat-soil, Meranti Islands Police Chief Adjunct Senior Commissioner Zahwani Pandra Arsyad pointed out.

His body with serious burn wounds in the back was found in Sungai Gayung Kiri village, Rangsang sub-district, on March 8.

The third victim a Muslim employee of PT Surya Dumia Agrindo, died while trying to help put out fires in Bengkalis district on March 15. He was killed when a tree fell on him.

Chief of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Syamsul Maarif had earlier stated that the social affairs ministry will provide financial compensation to the families of the victims.

Thousands of people affected by haze were provided with free medical services, he remarked.

The number of people whose health has been affected by haze coming from forest fires in Riau province, increased to 55.4 thousand on March 13 from 43.8 thousand on March 10.

"There was an increase of 5,831 people from the number on the previous day (Wednesday, Mar. 12)," Head of the Riau Health Office Zainal Arifin observed last week.

The largest number or 48,390 people suffered from respiratory infection; 11,798 of the affected people were residents of Pekanbaru, 8,033 residents of Rokan Hilir, and 6,136 of Bengkalis district, he revealed.

Some 2,481 people in Riau suffered from skin irritation. The number of people suffering from asthma in Riau was 1,872. At least 1,768 people suffered from eye irritation. Some 911 people suffered from pneumonia.

Editor: Priyambodo RH