Indonesia: Forest Fires, Haze Crisis Returning to Sumatra With a Vengeance, Disaster Official Warns

Jakarta Globe 2 Sep 15;

Jakarta. Satellite imagery picked up more than 600 fire hot spots across Sumatra on Wednesday, with the provinces of Jambi, Riau and South Sumatra accounting for most of the sightings.

Indonesia’s weather agency, the BMKG, detected 229 hot spots in Jambi, 189 in South Sumatra and 178 in Riau, fanning fears that a particularly acute dry season this year could result in a worse-than-usual haze threat from the annual forest fires that blight Sumatra.

“Sumatra is burning up,” National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Twitter on Wednesday in response to the BMKG’s report.

He argued that the numbers indicated that the fire season in Sumatra this year would be worse than last year or in 2013, when choking haze from forest fires in Riau sent air pollution indexes in Singapore and Malaysia to record hazardous levels.

Sutopo said that Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, was likely also suffering from an inordinate number of fires, but satellite images were not yet available as of Wednesday.

Citing reports from local offices of the BNPB in the fire-hit regions, Sutopo said visibility had deteriorated considerably, while schools in Jambi and Riau had been ordered closed as the air pollution index reached dangerous levels.

“The index [in many regions] has reached dangerous levels. More people will suffer from lung problems,” he warned.

Several airports – including Sultan Syarif Kasim II in Pekanbaru, Hang Nadim in Batam, Riau Islands, and Supadio Airport in the West Kalimantan capital of Pontianak – reported disruptions to scheduled flights as a result of poor visibility brought about by the haze.

“The visibility at Supadio is only 200 meters. It’s very thick,” Sutopo said.

Fires in Jambi, meanwhile, are threatening oil pipes that run through the forests there.

“Half of the fires along the oil pipelines in Betara Jambi have been put out, but [a comprehensive solution] obviously requires firm action from the government,” Sutopo said.

In Riau, water-bombing efforts to fight the fires were halted after the operating licenses of three helicopters rented by the BNPB for that purpose expired over the past couple of days.

Authorities were forced to rely solely on land-based operations to put out the fires, reported.

Walhi to gather complaints on forest fires
The Jakarta Post 2 Sep 15;

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) is setting up regional posts to accommodate complaints from the public related to losses caused by forest fires.

The posts will be set up at district levels in five provinces: Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan. Each post will be equipped with doctors and academics that will record health, ecosystem and social losses caused by the man-made disaster.

“This is a new breakthrough. Usually we sued companies that caused fires without submitting data on loss experienced by the public. This time we will include the data to sue not only the companies but also regional and central governments for letting the companies cause the fires,” said executive director of Walhi, Abetnego Tarigan, in a press conference called “Where There are Concessions, There is Smoke” at Walhi headquarters in South Jakarta on Tuesday.

So far one post has been set up in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, and it has been operating for a week.

Walhi notes at least four types of losses are caused by the draining of high carbon stock peatland for agriculture use, the root reason for forest fires. They are losses to ecosystem balance, social and health, which lead to economic losses.

The director of Jambi Walhi, Musri Nauli, said that Jambi residents could no longer easily find native semah river carp in peatland waters in addition to some species of herbs and edible vegetation due to the destruction of peat forests.

Nauli said that there were 700,000 hectares of peatland in Jambi, 20 percent of which had been drained and burned by industry.

“As the peat dries, water supplies decrease and water quality is also affected because seawater easily gets into the land. For this reason, most people living around the peatland in Jambi consume bottled water instead of the natural water enjoyed in the past,” Nauli remarked.

Seawater contaminated land plus drier land due to oil palm plantations and climate change had shifted the planting season and caused harvest failure on Jambi farms, he said.

“Oil palm does not create groundwater supply as they don’t absorb rainwater,” Nauli said.

He went on to say that haze from the fires had also affected many businesses.

“Sailors and those working in river transportation cannot sail because of the haze.”

The haze has also caused 1,250 Jambi residents to suffer from acute respiratory infections (ISPA) every week from June to September last year, according to Nauli.

During the press conference, Walhi also presented data on fire locations in 2014. As many as 4,084 hot spots were detected in plantation concessions owned by 150 companies while 603 hot spots were detected in natural forest concession land owned by 85 companies in 66 regencies in the five provinces.

The Center for International Forestry Research recommended the government make detailed concession maps available to the public to allow third parties to monitor activities within concessions.

When asked to comment on the recent “zero deforestation” pledge signed by the giant five palm oil companies in Indonesia, Abetnego said that, “We appreciate the initiative but the government has to supervise the implementation in the field because their subsidiaries still tell locals to burn the land for them.” (rbk)

Four areas in Riau shrouded in thick smoke 2 Sep 15;

Thick smoke blanketed four regencies and municipalities in Riau, reducing the visibility to only 400-800 meters on Monday morning.

“Pelalawan is the area with the worst visibility, reaching only 400 meters, followed by Pekanbaru [500 meters], Dumai [700 meters] and Rengat Indragiri Hulu [800 meters],” Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) head Sugarin said as quoted by Antara in Jakarta on Wednesday.

Based on satellite imagery results at 7 a.m. local time on Wednesday, the BMKG Pekanbaru said there were 134 hot spots, which were spread across 11 regencies and municipalities in Riau.

Sugarin said Pelalawan had the highest number of hot spots, which reached 36, followed by Indragiri Hilir (24) and Indragiri Hulu (16). Meanwhile, Kampar and Kuantan Singingi had nine hot spots each. Rokan Hulu and Siak had three hot spots each while Bengkalis and Meranti reported two hot spots and one hot spot, respectively.

Sugarin said smoke had blanketed several areas in Riau since August.

Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency head Edwar Sanger said the thick smoke shrouding Riau was from land and forest fires occurring in the area and its surrounding provinces, namely Jambi and South Sumatra.

A number of flights departing from Pekanbaru experienced delays on Wednesday morning due to low visibility in the region.

The head of state-owned airport operator Angkasa Pura II office at Sultan Syarif Kasim Airport in Pekanbaru, Dani Indra, said that at 7:45 a.m. local time, four airlines experienced delays: Lion Air, Garuda Indonesia, Citilink and Air Asia. (nov/ebf)

1 Million Hectares of Peatland in Sumatra Damaged By Fire
TEMPO 2 Sep 15;

Palembang- A total area of one million hectares of peatland in South Sumatra from 2006 to 2014 were damaged by fire, officials said Wednesday, September 2.

Head of Regional Technical Implementation Unit (UPTD), Forest and Land Fire Control, South Sumatra Forestry Office, Ahmad Taufik, in Palembang, on Wednesday said that in the period between 2006 to 2014 forest fire hit the area has resulted in the destruction of most of the province’s peatlands.

South Sumatra Land and Forest Fire Control recorded about one million hectares of 1.4 million hectares of peatlands in South Sumatra are now in a badly damaged condition due to the burning of the land.

He explained that, the forest and land fires caused the haze disaster that hit South Sumatra, as experienced in recent weeks.

Taufik explained that the dry season exacerbated by the El Nino phenomenon, causing drought is one factor of the frequent forest and peatland fires in South Sumatra.

According to Taufik, from June 2015 a number of hotspots has appeared on peatland on the east coast of South Sumatra, as in Ogan Ilir, Ogan Komering Ilir, Banyuasin and Musi Banyuasin. On average there were 100 fires observed by Aqua and Terra Modis satellites by the local meteorological agency.

While, anticipating the impact of peatland degradation that occurs, the South Sumatra provincial government together with related agencies is trying a variety of ways for the forest and land fires not to cause haze that spread to other regions.

These efforts include monitoring readiness of the land and air team, and intensified water bombing in four districts with potentially burning peat. In addition, they seek to improve law enforcement.

He added that this year's peak fire season occurred in August and September.

Haze triggers health issues, flight delays
Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, Jon Afrizal and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 2 Sep 15;

Thick haze produced by ongoing land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan has blanketed several cities on the two major islands for the past few days, creating potential health problems for local residents and a series of flight delays at local airports.

In Padang, the West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) has called on regional administrations in the province to anticipate the potential health issues created by the haze.

The head of the agency’s prevention division, Rumainur, said the density of the haze in Agam regency, for example, was recorded at 153 micrograms per cubic meter of air (ug/m3) on Tuesday at 9 a.m. and increased to 173 ug/m3 an hour later. Meanwhile, in Dharmasraya regency, the haze density was recorded at 170 ug/m3 on Monday.

“According to the air pollution standard index [ISPU], these numbers indicate that the air in the regions is now at an unhealthy level,” Rumainur told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

According to the ISPU, a haze density level between 101 and 199 ug/m3 is categorized as “unhealthy”, while between 200 and 300 ug/m3 is “very unhealthy” and over 300 ug/m3 is “dangerous”.

The Jambi Environmental Agency has also declared the air in the province to be unhealthy.

“The air quality here is very bad,” agency head Rosmeli said on Tuesday.

Data at Jambi’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) office showed that 320 hotspots were detected in the province on Tuesday, 124 of which were found in East Tanjung Jabung regency.

Local authorities in many parts of the country, particularly in Sumatra and Kalimantan, have been struggling to put out massive land and forest fires over the past few months due to this year’s prolonged dry season.

In Pekanbaru, thick haze also continued blanketing the Riau provincial capital, decreasing visibility to around a kilometer.

Riau Health Agency official Jon Kenedi said that 5,737 local residents had suffered from haze-related diseases in July alone. Of them, 4,885 suffered from acute respiratory infections (ISPA), 591 from skin irritations, 274 from eye irritations, 146 from pneumonia and 141 from asthma.

In Batam, Hang Nadim International Airport reported that several flights heading to the airport had been canceled on Tuesday morning due to haze.

Among the canceled flights were Citilink flight QG 930 from Palembang, South Sumatra, and Lion Air flight JT 957 from Medan, North Sumatra.

In Central Kalimantan, Palangkaraya’s Tjilik Riwut Airport head Usman Effendi told Antara news agency that haze had also caused delays to the departure and arrival of a number of flights, including Lion Air flight JT 671 heading to Jakarta and Garuda Indonesia GA 550 flight from Jakarta.

Usman said thick haze had blanketed the city from 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Tuesday, reducing visibility to only 500 meters. The standard minimum visibility for safe landing and take-off at the airport was 700 meters, he said.

Haze of smokes from bush fires disrupts flight schedules in Batam
Antara 2 Sep 15;

Batam (ANTARA News) - Thick haze of smokes from bush fires disrupted flight scheduled from and to the Hang Nadim international airport of Batam.

Citilink QG 930 from Palembang was scheduled to arrive in Batam at 10.000 local time but the flight had apparently been cancelled from Palembang.

Another Citilink aircraft, QG 884, from Medan to land at 10.10 was also cancelled.

Similar inconvenience was also suffered by Lion Air JT 975 from Medan cancelling morning flight to arrive at 10.40 at Batam on Wednesday.

Nam air IN 9886 from Jambi was due to land at Batam at 09.00 but until 10.30 failed to appeared at Batam.

Meanwhile , a number of flights from Batam have also been cancelled or delayed including those of Transnusa to Dumai of Riau, and Lion Air JT 963 to Bengkulu.

The smokes from bush fires in Sumatra had caused visibility problem in a number of airports in mainland Sumatra over the past several days.

"A number of flights have been cancelled or delayed since Monday," said Suwarso, head of the general affairs of the International Airport of Hang Nadim.

The visibility in the Hang Nadim airport is still safe , but the thick smokes over the ports of destination or departure in Sumatra caused the problem.

"Batam has only the impact of disruption of flight schedules in other airports in Sumatra," he said.