Indonesia refuses Singapore’s help in forest fires

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 12 Sep 15;

Indonesia has declined Singapore’s offer to assist the Indonesian government in fighting forest fires as Singapore and parts of Malaysia continued to be blanketed by clouds of smoke originating from the island of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

While Indonesia greatly appreciates the offer, the government is well-equipped to handle the current situation, according to Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar.

“Right now there are already 17 aircraft ready for water bombing and cloud seeding and we will also deploy an additional three planes,” she told The Jakarta Post on Friday, adding that the aircraft have been stationed in five provinces affected by forest fires.

Singapore again extended the assistance package it has been offering the Indonesian government since 2005. Singapore Environment and Water Resources minister Vivian Balakrishnan conveyed Singapore’s concern at the deteriorating situation to Siti, according to a press statement by the Singapore National Environment Agency.

Siti denied talking to Vivian on Thursday.

The package Singapore offered comprised one C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding operations, up to two C-130 aircraft to ferry a fire-fighting assistance team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), a team from SCDF to provide assessment and planning assistance to their Indonesian counterparts in their firefighting efforts, high resolution satellite pictures and hot spot coordinates and one Chinook helicopter with one SCDF water bucket for aerial firefighting.

“According to available information, Singapore will send one or two aircraft with the water bombing capacity of around 5,000 liters. What we use [at the moment] already have capacities of between 3,000 and 5,000 liters, plus
we rent Air Tractors from Australia. So I think [the assistance from Singapore] is not yet needed because our fleet is already numerous. But we thank them for the offer,” Siti said.

Vivian also called for urgent action to be undertaken, including stricter enforcement against the perpetrators and the identification of those responsible for the haze in order to facilitate appropriate action.

Singapore has repeatedly urged Indonesia to publicly share maps on agricultural concessions owned by oil palm, timber and other commodity companies, which are often blamed for starting the fires, particularly in neighboring Sumatra.

Doing so will send an unequivocal signal that ASEAN countries are prepared to be transparent and hold individual companies accountable for their actions, according to Singapore.

The Indonesian government, however, has refused to comply, with Siti saying that Indonesian laws prevent the government from sharing concession maps.

During a meeting in Jakarta in late July, environment ministers from five ASEAN nations, including Indonesia, agreed to sharing information on a government-to-government basis that would help identify plantation companies on whose land fires start and cause haze.

The director general of climate change at the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry, Nur Masripatin, told the Straits Times, however, that Indonesia could not disclose any plantation concession information, even on a government-to-government basis.

“Disclosing whose concession a certain hot spot is in would amount to disclosing a concession map,” said Masripatin, who is in charge of overseeing efforts to contain forest and land fires and who reports to Siti. “That is classified information. The government cannot do that.”

Singapore and Malaysia recorded alarming levels of air pollution on Thursday as the Indonesian government has yet to quell forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Jakarta declines help to fight fires
Environment minister says country has the resources to handle haze-inducing blazes
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 13 Sep 15;

Large parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan were choking in a thick haze yesterday, but Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar was reported to have said that Indonesia has no need for Singapore's offer of aircraft to fight the growing outbreaks of fires.

In Malaysia, 18 areas recorded unhealthy pollution levels yesterday morning, including Kuala Lumpur, its neighbouring states and Sarawak on Borneo island.

The number of fires in Indonesia has soared in recent weeks and Singapore has offered help to combat them. The assistance package offered to Indonesia included a C-130 military transport plane for cloud seeding, up to two C-130s to ferry a firefighting assistance team from Singapore to Indonesia and a Chinook helicopter with a water bucket for aerial firefighting.

Ms Siti said that Indonesia had enough planes and equipment to deal with the crisis.

Her comments were confirmed by the ministry's chief spokesman, Mr Eka Soegiri, when The Sunday Times contacted him yesterday.

In a statement last night, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) confirmed that, for now, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) would not be deployed to Sumatra.

"While the Indonesian authorities accepted our offer of assistance initially, they have since expressed appreciation for the offer and said they have sufficient resources of their own for now.

"Mindef/SAF remains in close contact with the Indonesia authorities and stands ready to help if required," the statement said.

The number of hot spots in Indonesia has surpassed the number recorded in mid-2013, when uncontrolled fires in Sumatra triggered record levels of haze in Malaysia and Singapore.

The Pollutant Standards Index hit 401 in June that year.

This time round, there were more fires in Kalimantan than in Sumatra, said Mr Andika Putraditama, a Jakarta-based research analyst at the Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research organisation that provides data analysis on the fires.

Current wind patterns mean the haze above Kalimantan will affect Sarawak, but not Singapore.

The crisis, though, is no less severe in Sumatra, with hundreds of fires reported within plantation concessions and nearly half the fires affecting peat lands.

Jambi and South Sumatra provinces have recorded the most fires in the past week.

An analysis by WRI between Sept 5 and yesterday showed more than 400 fire alerts in pulpwood concessions in Sumatra. WRI named nine companies, including one firm with 219 fire alerts. The majority of the companies are listed as suppliers to Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper. The analysis lists 44 fire alerts for palm oil concessions in Sumatra.

In Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, thick haze paralysed Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport yesterday, reducing visibility to only 100m, Jakarta Post reported. "No planes could fly," said airport duty manager Hasnan.

In Palembang, South Sumatra, the worst-affected province on the island, hundreds of residents held a mass prayer yesterday.

"We ask God to promptly give us rain. What we do here should complement the firefighters' efforts in the field," Mr Fajar Sani Nasution, a Palembang resident, told reporters.