Indonesia decides against labelling haze as national disaster

The Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said raising the haze problem to a national disaster level will not extinguish the fires sooner.
Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia 1 Oct 15

JAKARTA: The Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) on Thursday (Oct 1) said it is not necessary to raise the forest fires and haze crisis to a national disaster level.

The last time Indonesia declared a state of national disaster was in 2004 during the Asian tsunami which killed more than 200,000 Indonesians.

In recent days, lawmakers and NGOs have urged the government to declare the forest fires and haze a national disaster.

However, BNPB explained that certain conditions needed to be met.

For example, the number of deaths has to exceed 500, and the amount of economic loss has to be more than 1 trillion rupiah or US$68 million.

In a news conference on Thursday, BNPB chief Willem Rampangilei said that even though the government is not declaring this as a national disaster, the amount of resources being deployed is already on a national scale.

He said raising it to a national disaster level will not extinguish the fires sooner.

"If you say we are overwhelmed, we're not,” said Wilhem. “Is it under control? Are we able to manage the forest fires? The answer is clearly we can. This is not a personal judgement, but based on what we have seen on the satellite pictures."

Willem said there has been progress with the number of hot spots decreasing, but he expects the haze to persist because even though fires are put out on the peatlands, the land is still smouldering and this will take time to resolve.

Willem added that he hopes the problem can be completely dealt with by the end of October or early November.

- CNA/ec

Clusters of forest fires widespread
The Jakarta Post 1 Oct 15;

The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) has admitted that it has become increasingly difficult to quell the raging forest fires that have razed large parts of the archipelago this year.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said that fires in 2012 and 2013 were concentrated in Riau, but this year, fire clusters were more widespread, with South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan recording the most severe cases.

“Water supply [to put out fires] is also limited, while peatlands is hard to deal with,” says Sutopo at the State Palace on Wednesday.

The limited supply of water has made it hard to carry out water bombing procedures on the burned land.

Sutopo said the agency would now focus on combatting fires in severely-affected areas such as South Sumatra’s Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyasin as well as the province’s border area with Jambi.

In Central Kalimantan, the agency will try to extinguish fires in the Pulang Pisau, Kapuas and East Kotawaringin regencies.

“Teams in South Kalimantan will support efforts in Central Kalimantan,” said Sutopo.

Over the past weeks, air pollution from fires in peatland and plantation areas has severely affected several regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan, including Jambi, Riau, South Sumatra, West Sumatra and Central Kalimantan.

The ongoing crisis has also been exacerbated by this year’s prolonged dry season, caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

73 hotspots detected in Barito, C. Kalimantan
Antara 1 Oct 15;

Muara Teweh (ANTARA News) - The Terra and Aqua satellites detected 73 hotspots indicating forest fires along Barito River that flows through the districts of North Barito, Murung Raya, East Barito, and South Barito, Central Kalimantan Province, on early Thursday.

"The hotspots were monitored on Thursday until 6 a.m. local time in the four districts. The number increased from that recorded in the previous days," Aswaludin, the spokesman of the Muara Teweh administration in North Barito District, stated.

Of the 73 hotspots, eight were found in South Barito, 14 in East Barito, 25 in North Barito, and 26 in Murung Raya.

The haze shrouding Muara Teweh reduced visibility to 300-400 meters on Thursday morning, compared to 1.5 thousand meters on the previous day.

The North Barito authorities have extended the haze emergency response status until October 31, 2015, from September 30 earlier.

On September 29, the haze arising from forest and plantation fires in North Barito District, Central Kalimantan, had reduced visibility to 50 meters in Muara Teweh.

"This morning, the thick haze, coupled with fog, significantly reduced the visibility and has been causing respiratory problems," Yaser, a local inhabitant of Muara Teweh, said.

Elpi Epanop, the head of the education office of North Barito, decided to shut down schools from kindergarten level to senior high in nine sub-districts until September 30 due to the haze.

East Kalimantan fires escalate, affect local orangutan sanctuary
N. Adri The Jakarta Post 1 Oct 15;

Forest fires have continued to engulf parts of Kalimantan, leaving local residents and endangered animals and wildlife struggling to survive the several-week long disaster.

In East Kalimantan, fires that emerged since Tuesday night have reportedly burned some areas inside the 1,852-hectare Samboja Lestari orangutan sanctuary, located some 80 kilometers south of the provincial capital of Samarinda.

Last week, fires also burned some parts of the facility, which is managed by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF), but were finally extinguished by the weekend.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, BOSF spokesperson Nico Hermanu said the series of fires had so far razed over 200 hectares of forest in the facility, which currently accommodates 209 orangutans and 47 sun bears in its rehabilitation and reintroduction programs.

“The fires have also damaged our helipad,” he said, adding that the helipad was located only 200 meters away from the BOSF office.

Despite the fluctuating intensity of forest fires, the sanctuary management, still has no plan to relocate staff and animals from the facility in the immediate future.

“Our current concern is that our staff and animals will suffer from respiratory problems due to the haze,” Nico said.

From Tuesday evening, BOSF staff, supported by fire fighters and volunteers from the East Kalimantan Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina and the Environment and Forestry Ministry, have been deployed to extinguish fires in the facility.

Over the past several weeks, many regions in Indonesia, have been struggling to put out both man-made and natural land and forest fires. The ongoing disaster, which has also triggered a major haze crisis, has been exacerbated by this year’s long dry season triggered by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Earlier this week, the Sampit Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) in Central Kalimantan managed to evacuate an orangutan from the Wengga Metropolitan residential complex, Baamang district.

The endangered primate had been seen roaming around the area since last week, and was believed to have been displaced from its habitat due to the fires that have ravaged forests in the province over the past two months.

Despite being estimated to be 11 years old, the orangutan weighed only 20 kilograms, indicating that he was malnourished.

“We will take the orangutan to Pangkalan Bun city for [medical] examination. If he is physically fit and ready, we will soon return it to the Lamandau conservation forest,” Sampit BKSDA official Muriansyah said on Tuesday, as quoted by Antara news agency.

BKSDA officers, supported by BOSF staff, needed several hours to finally capture the orangutan, whom local residents affectionately call “Doni”. After several attempts, the officers finally managed to put him to sleep with tranquilizer darts.

The Switzerland-based environmental organization International Union for Conservation Nature (IUCN) has listed the orangutan an endangered species since 2000.

Forest fires in Ketapang regency, West Kalimantan, also forced two orangutans to flee from their habitat to a rubber plantation belong to residents of Kuala Satong subdistrict last week.

Ketapang BKSDA head Junaidi said on Tuesday the two orangutans, one estimated to be 30 years old and the other seven years old, had been captured by his officers.

“The evacuation was carried out after reports from local residents who had spotted an orangutan roaming around a well looking for water,” he said in a written statement. “The mother later came over, so they found two orangutans at the location.”

Paramedics on standby for evacuated infants in haze-hit Pekanbaru
Antara 1 Oct 15;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Pekanbaru administration has mobilized some paramedics who are on standby for 24 hours to help infants currently evacuated to the Pekanbaru municipality offices hall to protect them from the haze caused by forest fires.

"Since Wednesday, the hall has accommodated infants and their mothers," Head of the Pekanbaru health office Helda S. Munir noted here, Thursday.

The infant evacuation command post set up by the municipality is run by a doctor and two nurses, among others, in each shift.

An outpatient clinic has also been opened in the hall to treat those affected by the haze.

Pekanbaru Mayor Firdaus has issued an order to evacuate infants under six months of age in 12 sub-districts badly affected by haze arising from the forest fires.

The local authorities coordinate the evacuation of infants below six months of age from underprivileged families, he stated.

They are being evacuated to a city hall that has been transformed into a makeshift nursery and has been equipped with baby boxes, air conditioners, and a health clinic. The local authorities will also provide milk to the infants.

The evacuation has been deemed necessary as Pekanbarus air pollution index has reached a hazardous level over the past week.

"At present, the air pollution index in Pekanbaru has reached one thousand psi, which is categorized as hazardous," he remarked.

Poor families usually do not have good facilities for infants, thus the air quality inside their homes is similar to that outside, he noted.

"Therefore, we are trying to provide facilities, including good air conditioning, so that the infants, the countrys next generation, can breathe clean air," he affirmed.

The evacuation process is carried out by personnel of the local disaster mitigation office (BPBD), health office, community health centers, and village heads.

"The infants will stay at the city hall as long as the air quality is bad," the mayor noted.

The evacuation process is still ongoing. On the first day, the team evacuated a four-month-old infant and a two-year-old child belonging to a family.

"The family does not have the facility to blow away the haze from their house. The air inside and outside the house is the same," Mayor Firdaus stated.

The evacuation of infants is currently the priority, as the municipality does not have adequate funds to help pregnant women and elderly people, according to the mayor.(*)

Airlines calculate losses due to haze
Arif Gunawan S., 1 Oct 15;

Indonesia’s airlines are calculating the potential losses of flight delays and cancellations caused by smoke from wildfires, currently blanketing areas across Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Garuda Indonesia vice president of corporate communications Benny S. Butarbutar said that around 500 flights had been cancelled throughout September, due to smoke currently affecting several areas such Jambi, Palangkaraya (Central Kalimantan), Pontianak (West Kalimantan) and Riau.

“The effect of the haze on our businesses is very significant. From Sept. 3 to Sept. 21, at least 500 flights had to be cancelled. Our subsidiary, Citilink, had 250 flight cancellations during the period,” he told

Benny further said that Garuda and Citilink had prepared a measure called “3-R”, an abbreviation for Reroute, Reschedule and Refund, to respond to haze-related weather conditions.

He said if the visibility of the destined airport was poor, the pilot would try to reroute the flight to the nearest airport, which had better visibility. If the reroute option was not available, Garuda would decide to cancel and reschedule the flight, waiting for better visibility.

Meanwhile, the refund option was open when passengers decide to withdraw their flight booking permanently.

Sharing similar sentiments, Lion Mentari Airlines (Lion Air) general affairs director Edward Sirait said the current haze-related situation was bad for the airline. Many passengers cancelled their reservations and flights were forced to delay and even to cancel service totally.

“Surely, there is revenue loss due to this. We haven’t got the exact number and are still assessing how much it is going to be,” he said.

Edward said that at the moment, Lion Air crew members who were operating in haze-affected areas had continued to closely monitor the visibility in the airport. They sent reports every half hour, thus allowing flight schedules to be adjusted closer to the reality.

He said the airline had focused on the passenger’s safety in deciding whether or not the flight would continue to operate. “We have applied a contingency plan to follow during this kind of situation. Passengers' safety is our priority,” Edward said.

Benny said Garuda put the passengers first by offering in-flight rescheduling requests and even giving the passengers refunds.

Both of the airlines urged the government to do more to tame the fires.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said that the fires would likely continue until November. Bad weather caused by smoke from the wildfires would continue to threaten people’s health.

Responding to the situation, BNPB called on people to take preventive measures, especially from the health side.

“If it is painful for you to breathe, you have to seek medical treatment,” BNPB head Willem Rampangilei said as quoted by on Thursday.

BNPB also urged the people not to burn the land, saying that the government could not handle the situation entirely on its own. “If the people are aware of how to prevent fires themselves, God willing, it can be immediately resolved,” said Willem, adding that the government had intensified fire extinguishing efforts both via air and land. (ebf)

Palembang sees sharp hike in bus passengers due to haze 1 Oct 15;

Inter-city, inter-province (AKAP) buses connecting Palembang in South Sumatra with Jakarta and other areas of Java have seen a sharp increase in passenger numbers due to haze causing flight delays and cancellations at Sultan Mahmud Badarudin 2 Airport in Palembang.

Data from several bus agencies at Karya Jaya Palembang Terminal, 12 kilometers along the Palembang-Ogan Ilir eastern highway, shows a 60 percent increase in passengers using buses to travel from Palembang to Jakarta and other areas in Java during the last two weeks.

Representatives of the bus agencies said on Thursday that most passengers who had shifted to buses from airlines were traveling to destinations in Java, such as Jakarta and Bandung. They suspected that the passenger hike was due to smoke from wildfires in areas across Sumatra.

A manager of Lorena bus company at Karya Jaya Palembang Terminal, Cik Utin, said she was happy to see such a sharp hike in bus passengers in the city.

“To accommodate the passenger hike, our management has operated an additional two or three buses per day,” said Cik Utin as quoted by on Thursday.

Despite such a significant increase in passengers, Cik Utin said Lorena’s management had not increased bus fares. “The ticket prices are still same. There has been no fare increase,” she said.

A manager of a bus company serving the Pekan Baru-Jakarta route via Palembang, Hendro, said seats on his three of four buses a day to Jakarta were currently up to 90 percent full, every day.

As reported earlier, the haze disaster currently affecting several areas across Indonesia, including Palembang in South Sumatra, has led to flight delays and cancellations due to limited visibility. (edn/ebf)