Indonesia: Haze Set to Worsen After More Hot Spots in Riau Detected

Kennial Caroline Laia Jakarta Globe 26 Jul 14;

Jakarta. Indonesia’s disaster agency warned on Friday that the haze in Riau province on Western Sumatra island would likely exacerbate after satellites detected 346 hot spots across Sumatra, mostly in Riau.

“The forest and land fires continue to rage until now. The latest development showed that out of 346 hotspots, 148 were detected in Riau,” spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told the Jakarta Globe on Friday.

The number is higher than the previous report, which recorded 87 hot spots.

The hot spots are mostly located in Rokan Hilir village with the number reaching 73 hot spots, according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

“The haze has also caused the visibility range in several areas disrupted, such as in Pekanbaru, Pelalawan, Rengat and Dumai,” Sutopo added. “If the provincial government does not take any preventative measure, this condition would likely worsen. The dry season in 2014 will make it even worse.”

Sutopo said the fire mitigation process in the region was conducted poorly, adding that the provincial government still mostly relies on the central government for help.

“The role of the Riau government in handling the land and forests fires is still not optimal. The efforts to reduce and prevent fires in Riau are still very low. They are still depending on the central [government],” he said. “The Riau government should by now be able to handle the incident because it is one of the richest regions.”

Riau Governor Annas Maamun said this week that his government was keeping a close eye on the fires in the province.

“We are really serious in anticipating the fires. However, the officials couldn’t possibly keep an eye on the forest all night long,” he was quoted as saying by

Sutopo said that hotspots in Riau would continue to appear until November.

“New hot spots would continue to appear if El Nino occurred this year. The BNPB has allocated budget up to Rp 355 billion ($3.1 million) to anticipate land and forest fires across Indonesia,” he said.

Sutopo attributed the never-ending forest fires in Riau to lack of law enforcement in the province.

“Many regulations stipulating environmental control have been issued by both the central and regional government. However, the problem truly lies in the implementation,” he said. “Every year, during June to October in Sumatra, more than 70 percent of the fires happen outside forest areas, which were intentionally set off by humans. This has a great impact on its surroundings.”

Haze, in February-April this year alone, has caused Rp 20 trillion in losses. Meanwhile 21,914 hectares of land had been burned, and 58,000 people developed respiratory ailments and schools were forced to closed, the BNPB said.

Sutopo received reports from the Riau Police, which said the fires were mostly set off by owners of private plantations which considered burning as more cost-efficient as compared to clearing them.

Legal expert Uli Parulian Sihombing, with the Indonesian Legal Resource Center, echoed this view, saying that the fires were the result of weak implementation of regulation and poor supervision from the local government.

“Existing regulations prove that the government has a good intention to stop the land and forest fires. However, law enforcement is very low. Although perpetrators have been arrested for setting off fires, generally they were only actors in the field while the masterminds who organized the fire are still walking free,” he said.

Uli said the government needs to take extraordinary measures because the haze from the fires is not only affecting Indonesians but also neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.

“Besides Kalimantan and Papua, Riau is the last bastion of Indonesia’s tropical forests. It has to be protected. There should be extraordinary measures from the government to stop the forest fires in Riau and other potential areas in Indonesia,” he said.