Indonesia: Forest and land fires ravage two million hectares

Antara 30 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Around two million hectares have so far been burnt by forest and land fires in Indonesia, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

"The figures may continue to increase as data collection is still ongoing," BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho stated here on Friday.

He pointed out that several fires in numerous locations had yet to be extinguished and were still to be accounted for.

He revealed that some of the burnt forest and land areas belonged to community members while others belonged to corporations, conservation agencies, national parks, and others.

He noted that until October, 32 percent of the fires were detected in non-commercial forest areas.

"The other twenty percent are in industrial forests, 20 percent in palm oil plantations, 23 percent in areas for other purposes, and five percent in other areas," he remarked.

Based on data from the National Space and Aviation Institute (LAPAN), the biggest forest and land fires were found in Sumatra, reaching 832,999 hectares.

Fires in Kalimantan covered around 806,817 hectares, while 353,191 hectares were detected in Papua.

Nugroho said the government is still making ongoing efforts to put out the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Shelters have also been set up in several regions to accommodate the people affected by haze, he added.(*)

Indonesia’s forest fires take toll on wildlife, big and small
Today Online 31 Oct 15;

JAKARTA — A disoriented, pregnant orangutan, her treetop home in Indonesian Borneo reduced to charred wood, is rushed to a rehabilitation centre by conservationists, who dodged walls of fire and toxic smoke.

Veterinarians care for 16 abandoned baby orangutans already living at the centre. The babies had developed respiratory infections because of haze from the fire, delaying the conservationists’ continuing attempts to teach them how to live on their own in the wild.

Long-awaited heavy rains this week in the Indonesian regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan appeared to be the beginning of the end of the mass forest fires that have raged since late August, Indonesia’s worst such disaster in at least 20 years.

While plenty has been written about the economic costs of the fires and the human suffering they have caused — hundreds of thousands of people sickened by the haze in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, and a regional price tag that one expert estimated at more than US$14 billion (S$19.6 billion) — so far, scientists and environmentalists can only speculate about the extent of the damage to wildlife, including endangered species like the orangutan.

But the early signs are not good.

“We’re still not sure how many might have gotten sick or died,” said Ms Paulina Ela, a spokeswoman for the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, which runs two rescue and rehabilitation centres in the region.

“The impact is not really visible now, but maybe in the next two or three months,” she said.

In the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan, which lies on Borneo, the organisation has rescued nine endangered orangutans whose habitats were destroyed by fires, Ela said. One was relocated to a safer area, and eight others, including three babies, the pregnant female and a male whose eyes were damaged by burning debris, were taken to the rehabilitation centre for treatment, she said.

The province includes Sebangau National Park, which is home to the world’s largest population of wild orangutans, estimated around 7,000.

But orangutans are far from the only species suffering. Indonesia’s fauna is among the world’s most diverse, and a broad spectrum of wildlife — including elephants, birds, snakes and even insects — has been severely affected by the fires and choking haze, scientists say.

This month, Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry announced that more than 4.2 million acres of forest and open land had been destroyed by the fires. Each year, fires are intentionally set to clear land cheaply — for palm oil plantations, for pulp and paper mill operations, and for other agricultural uses — but they grew out of control this year because of prolonged drought and the effects of El Nio, scientists say.

This week, scientific and conservation organisations reported that endangered species like orangutans, Sumatran tigers and Sumatran elephants, among other wildlife, had fled burning rain forests and moved toward areas settled by humans.

“There will be a huge impact on endangered species because they need a big habitat,” said Mr Yuyun Indradi, a campaign team leader for Greenpeace Indonesia.

“And with this gone, there will be more human-animal conflicts” over land, he said. “Elephants and tigers especially.”

That would worsen a longstanding problem in Indonesia. The western island of Sumatra has had many cases of rural farmers shooting wild elephant herds that moved onto plantations in search of food, or rampaged through farmlands and villages in what had once been their habitat.

Sumatran tigers have been trapped and killed after killing farmers and villagers while hunting at night. Orangutans have also been shot dead in their dwindling habitats in Sumatra and Kalimantan, or captured and sold as pets.

Even the tiniest creatures are being affected by the fires, and that could also have repercussions for people. During Indonesia’s last severe forest fire crisis, in 1997, the haze significantly reduced bee populations, which took three years to recover, said Mr Erik Meijaard, coordinator of Borneo Futures, a conservation project.

That is likely to hurt agricultural production in Indonesia, he said, since bees are crucial to the pollination of apples, melons, onions, potatoes, tomatoes and other crops.

“Your common fruits and vegetables are bee-pollinated, so without them they won’t grow,” Mr Meijaard said.

Scientists and government officials are also waiting anxiously to see the fallout of the crisis on Indonesia’s plant life, including its shrinking rain forests. NEW YORK TIMES

Sumatra and Kalimantan enjoy cleaner air after rain, BNPB says 30 Oct 15;

The thick haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan started to ease on Friday after the rains came sweeping through, said a spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the air quality on Friday morning was better than the past three months.

"The rain over the past three days helped the air quality and visibility get better in Sumatra and Kalimantan," he said as quoted by state news agency Antara.

Sutopo also reported that hot spots had also lessened.

He said the weather in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, was reportedly bright on Friday morning even though the air quality in the city was reportedly unhealthy a day before.

"We hope there will be more [rain] clouds in the areas affected by the haze," he said.

Sutopo said the Terra Aqua satellite detected one hotspot in Kalimantan, which was in South Kalimantan on Thursday afternoon. While there were 148 hotspots detected in Sumatra on Thursday: one in Bengkulu, 30 in Lampung, one in West Sumatra and 109 in South Sumatra.

The visibility in Padang, West Sumatra, was 5,000 meters; 4,000 m in Pekanbaru, Riau; 1,700 m in Jambi; and 2,000 m in Palembang, South Sumatra.

While Kalimantan reportedly had better visibility on Thursday: 1,000 m in Pontianak; 10,000 m in Ketapang, West Kalimantan; 5,000 m in Palangkaraya; and 5,000 m in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan. (rin)(+)

Hotspots continue to drop in Sumatra, Kalimantan, thanks to rain
On Friday morning, there were 156 hotspots in south Sumatra and only four in Kalimantan, compared to the previous Thursday when there were 703 hotspots in South Sumatra and 462 in Kalimantan.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 30 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s National Disaster and Management Agency (BNPB) said on Friday (Oct 30) that the number of hotspots from forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan have continued to decline since rain started falling in the two areas on Tuesday.

In a news conference, the BNPB said that as of 5am Friday, there were 156 hotspots in south Sumatra and only four in Kalimantan, compared to the previous Thursday when there 703 hotspots in South Sumatra and 462 in Kalimantan. Visibility has also improved allowing airports that have been closed to commence flight operations.

In Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, where the air pollution index soared to more than 2,000 at its peak, visibility there is now 1,200 metres.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said more rain can be expected in the next four days, and so it is another “golden time” to continue with cloud seeding and water bombing efforts. Dr Sutopo added that the BNPB has used more than US$36 million in its fire-fighting efforts.

He also said that the forest fires this year were made worse because the local authorities were reluctant to raise the incident to an emergency status. This, he said, was because local elections would be held this year and local heads feared being seen as incapable by the central government.

Dr Sutopo cited data from the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) showing a positive correlation between elections and incidents of forest fires.

He said: “Every election, every five years, there is a positive correlation between the elections and the number of land and forest fires. This is coupled with the fact that in 2015, there will be local direct elections."

At the same news conference, a spokesperson from the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) said that forest fires in Indonesia have so far destroyed more than two million hectares of land – that is about four times the size of Bali. Sumatra and Kalimantan were the worst hit areas with a total of more than 1.6 million hectares of land destroyed.

- CNA/hs

Four Killed Trying to Quell E. Java Forest Fire
Whisnu Bagus Prasetyo Jakarta Globe 30 Oct 15;

Jakarta. Four men have been killed in a forest fire while trying to extinguish the flames in East Java's Ponorogo district on Thursday.

The four killed in the concession of state logging firm Perhutani, in Slahung subdistrict, were identified as Perhutani official Suyitno (43) and three locals Budianto (30), Paijun (25), and Jaimun (44).

The fire, which has consumed some four hectares of the pine forest, broke out on Thursday at 10 a.m., prompting a group of men to head there to extinguish the fire, but suddenly the wind picked up and fanned the deadly flames.

“They all panicked and ran for their lives. However, when they got to a safe distance away from the fire, they realized four were missing,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said in a statement on Thursday.

“The group then went searching for the missing members and at 2 p.m., they found the four men, who had died from [severe] burn injuries,” Sutopo added. "It seems the victims passed out after having been exposed to the thick smoke [prior to their deaths]."

Forest fires throughout Indonesia since July have so far killed at least 24 people: 12 in Sumatra and Kalimantan, eight on Mount Lawu, East Java, and now four in Ponorogo.

Large parts of Indonesia are experiencing extreme drought because of the El Nino weather phenomenon. The fires, often started by people to clear land for agriculture, have also created a massive and ongoing haze crisis.

Air Force to relocate jets from haze regions
The Jakarta Post 30 Oct 15;

The Air Force is planning to redeploy several jet fighters away from haze-affected areas.

Air Force chief of staff Air Chief Marshal Agus Supriyatna said recently that the haze had reduced visibility in several Air Force bases such as in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, and in Pekanbaru, Riau.

“We will relocate the fighter jets so that we can keep exercising and maintaining our pilots’ professionalism,” Agus said, adding that the new locations would be in Madiun, East Java, and Biak, Papua.

Agus said Biak had good weather and was not affected by the haze.

It is reported that Pontianak air base has a squadron of Hawk/100s while Pekanbaru is the base for a squadron of F-16 Fighting Falcons.

Agus said the Air Force had helped to extinguish hotspots by conducting water bombing with helicopters. However, he admitted the capacity of helicopters was too small as each helicopter could transport only 2 tons of water.

“Russia is helping us by using its aircraft, which can accommodate 12 tons of water,” he said.

Indonesia Air Force Chief of Staff, VP Kalla discuss haze prevention efforts
Antara 30 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia Air Force Chief of Staff Marshal Agus Supriatna met Vice President M. Jusuf Kalla here on Friday to discuss ways to prevent haze in numerous regions.

"The vice president asked the Air Force to coordinate with the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) to create artificial rain to prevent the haze when it becomes cloudy," Supriatna stated at the vice presidential office on Friday.

The Air Force chief of staff noted that weather modification to create artificial rain will be carried out using a fleet of three Beriev BE-200 aircraft leased from Russia.

"We have prepared three Beriev BE-200 aircraft to conduct the operation, but we have five Hercules and five CN259 aircraft for evacuation," Supriatna noted.

However, he added that the operations to create artificial rain will not be carried out simultaneously in the haze-affected areas.

Government to buy four Russian Beriev aircraft
Antara 30 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia will buy four Russian Beriev BE-200 aircraft for its armed forces and will also be used to conduct cloud seeding to create artificial rain to extinguish forest or land fires.

"We have submitted the proposal and included it in our strategic plan to buy four aircraft. This would be sufficient," the countrys Air Force Chief of Staff, Marshal Agus Supriatna, stated after meeting Vice President Jusuf Kalla here on Friday.

He noted that the Beriev BE-200 aircraft is ideal for conducting water bombing operations in areas affected by fires.

With additional Beriev aircraft being deployed to conduct cloud seeding operations, we would also be able to complete the operations quickly, he added.

"Many sorties are needed. An aircraft needs 20 to 30 minutes to fetch water from the sea and 15 to 17 seconds to load before flying for 30 minutes to reach a location," he explained.

To extinguish the current fires in Sumatra, the government has leased two Russian amphibious aircraft to conduct cloud seeding operations to create artificial rain.

During the government of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, two BE-200 aircraft had been used to conduct a similar operation for several months and were leased on a contract worth up to US$5.4 million. Indonesia has also been offered the option to buy the aircraft.

The BE-200 aircraft can scoop tons of water without the need to land by just positioning itself above the water level.

Commander of the Palembang Air Base Lieutenant Colonel MRY Fahlefie remarked that the BE-200 aircraft had landed in Palembang to take part in the aerial firefighting operations by using water from the Strait of Malacca.

"Later, the aircraft will fetch water from the Strait of Malacca, and so, it will be deployed at the Pangkal Pinang Airport," he added. (*)

Lawmaker condemns house leaders wearing masks during plenary meeting
Antara 30 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The National Democrat (NasDem) Party lawmaker Johnny G. Plate has voiced his criticism over several leaders of the House of Representatives wearing masks during a plenary meeting.

"Several leaders of the House of Representatives have made a mockery of the haze disaster when thousands of people have been suffering from thick smoke," Plate affirmed here on Friday.

According to Plate, the House leaders have politicized the haze crisis by wearing masks.

"Currently, the government and the society have been struggling to extinguish forest fires. We were highly disappointed with the politicization of the haze problem," he affirmed.

In response to the criticism, House of Representatives deputy speaker Taufik Kurniawan clarified that wearing masks during the meeting was merely a form of an appeal.

"The House leaders had no intention to politicize the haze crisis. As a result, the House leaders removed their masks," he remarked.

Earlier, several leaders of the House of Representatives had worn masks during a plenary meeting on Friday as a show of solidarity with the victims of the haze disaster.

"Let us wear masks as a form of solidarity for the haze victims," Kurniawan stated here on Friday.

In addition, he urged all lawmakers to conduct a prayer for rains after the Friday prayer in a bid to solve the haze crisis in the country.

However, wearing masks during the meeting was criticized by several members of the House of Representatives who urged the House leaders to take them off.

Nevertheless, the House leaders comprising Setya Novanto, Kurniawan, Agus Hermanto, Fahri Hamzah, and Fadli Zon continued to wear their masks.

Meanwhile, the House leaders wore masks while singing the national anthem, Indonesia Raya.

"It is not allowed to sing the national anthem while wearing a mask. We should openly sing Indonesias national anthem," a legislator affirmed.

Some 529,527 people have suffered from upper respiratory tract infections due to the forest- and land fire-triggered haze that has plagued the country since several months, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

"The haze plaguing the country has caused upper respiratory tract infections in 529,527 people," Head of Data Information and Public Relations of the BNPB Sutopo Purwo Nugroho noted on Friday morning.

The victims were from Sumatra and Kalimantan, particularly 60,225 from Central Kalimantan; 79,888 from Riau; 129,229 from Jambi; 115,484 from South Sumatra; 46,672 from West Kalimantan; and 98,029 from South Kalimantan.

"The haze victims totaled 529,527 people," he reported.

The data is based on the report received by the BNPB on October 29, 2016, Sutopo remarked.

However, there is a possibility that the actual count could be higher, he affirmed.

This is because some people ailing from diseases did not visit the doctors at the Community Health Care Centers (Puskesma) or the hospitals.

"They perhaps consulted the doctors independently, and so, they were not registered," he pointed out.(*)

House leaders criticized for wearing face masks during plenary session
Marguerite Afra Sapiie, 30 Oct 15;

Leaders of the House of Representatives were criticized for wearing face masks while they were presiding over a plenary session on Friday to express their concern over the haze disaster due to the prolonged forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

House speaker Setya Novanto and three deputy speakers were accused of politicizing the haze disaster that had caused misery to millions of people by wearing face masks during the plenary session.

“Our people in Kalimantan and Sumatra need real action. Yes the government should improve health facilities and programs to help them. But don’t use this disaster as a tool for 'image building',” said Rahmat Hamka, a House member from Central Kalimantan.

In response to the criticism, Setya Novanto said that the move to wear face masks was to show empathy for the millions of people who suffered from the haze.

“These face masks show our empathy. We, the House leaders, want to remind to the House members about the seriousness of the disaster,” said Setya.

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) legislator Henry Yosodiningrat said wearing face masks was not a proper thing to do even though it was intended to show empathy toward haze victims.

Instead, he added, the House has to demand the government allocate adequate funds for disaster mitigation because Indonesia is susceptible to natural disasters such as floods and fires. “The Public wants us to allocate more money to handling natural disasters,” said Henry.

Henry even considered that such an action was done in contempt of parliament.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party lawmaker Nuryati Ali Assegaf criticized the government for their lack of commitment in tackling haze, comparing to their efforts the efforts during the Air Asia QZ8501 crisis, when the government spent Rp 1 trillion (US$73 million) to search for victims' bodies. (bbn)(+)

Indonesia now looks at land-burning laws in effort to halt haze
Indonesia is reviewing laws that allow farmers to burn up to two hectares (five acres), forestry officials said, the latest in so-far unsuccessful efforts to halt fires that have sent choking smoke across much of Southeast Asia.
Channel NewsAsia 30 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: Indonesia is reviewing laws that allow farmers to burn up to two hectares (five acres), forestry officials said, the latest in so-far unsuccessful efforts to halt fires that have sent choking smoke across much of Southeast Asia.

Indonesia is also considering declaring a national emergency over the fires, which this week caused President Joko Widodo to cut short an official trip to the United States and pushed the country's greenhouse gas emissions above the daily average from all economic activity in the U.S.

A 2009 law allows smallholder farmers to use slash-and-burn practices to clear land for agricultural purposes, and has been cited by green groups and plantation firms as a key cause of the annual fires when the burning gets out of control.

"The problem is that some people take advantage of this exception," Indonesia's environment and forestry minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, told reporters when asked about the law.

"In our last cabinet meeting, the president assigned us to review a regulation that allows land burning for two hectares."

Revising the law may need parliamentary support which could delay changes until 2016, said Bakar, adding that the government was therefore considering an emergency regulation.

Forestry experts say the best way to clear forested areas is by tractors, chainsaws or hand tools. These methods are more expensive and time-consuming than fires.

The haze has caused pollution levels across the region to spike to unhealthy levels, and forced school closures and flight cancellations.

Warships are on standby to evacuate infants and other vulnerable residents of haze-hit areas, while other countries have been asked for help to tackle the fires.

The fires, often deliberately set by plantation companies and smallholders, have been burning for weeks in the forests and carbon-rich peat lands of Sumatra and Kalimantan islands.

"We support our government's initiative to revise the provisional laws that allow small-holder farmers to clear up to two hectares of forested land by burning," said Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability at Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). "But a multi-stakeholder initiative to support the local farmer and community must be initiated in parallel.

"The key here is to assist the farmers and the community in developing their land responsibly without burning."

Indonesia usually enters its wet season in October and November, and despite the El Nino dry conditions, rain has been reported in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan this week.

(Reporting by Bernadette Christina and Michael Taylor; writing by Michael Taylor; Editing by Nick Macfie)

- Reuters