Indonesia: Students back to school as rains clear the air

Rizal Harahap and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 3 Nov 15;

After weeks of forced school closures, students in many parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan returned to school this week, thanks to rains that have helped clear haze and end severe air pollution in their respective areas.

In Indragiri Hulu regency, Riau, the local education agency reopened schools on Monday after shutting them down for almost two months on account of thick haze produced by forest and peatland fires that enveloped the area.

“There has been no haze for the past few days. The weather is improving. We can see the sun again from morning to the afternoon,” the education agency’s secretary, Winaldi, said on Monday.

To help students catch up missing schoolwork, Winaldi said that all schools in the regency must effectively use the remaining school days before the semester exam, which has been scheduled for mid-December.

“They can do so by providing additional school hours or additional courses held after school,” he said.

In Pekanbaru, schools resumed activities on Wednesday as heavy rains fell over the provincial capital.

FA Jabbar, a student at SMP 8 Pekanbaru state junior high school, said he was glad to return to school.

“I get to see my friends again at school. We weren’t able to see each other because of the haze,” he said.

Apart from Riau, the country’s largest oil-producing region, West Sumatra, Jambi, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan were among the provinces hardest hit by the air pollution originating from fires in peatland and plantations over the past few months.

The ongoing disaster has also been exacerbated by this year’s long dry season triggered by the El NiƱo weather phenomenon.

The same excitement was also expressed by teachers and students in Padang, West Sumatra, as they went back to school on Monday after a week of closures.

“We have subjects to catch up,” said Eldawati, an English teacher at SMP 24 Padang state junior high school.

Alberth Nahas, a researcher with the Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) station in Bukit Kototabang, Agam regency, said that it was possible for haze to return but at the same time the chance of rain over the West Sumatra region was high enough to reduce the impacts of haze.

In Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Antara news agency reported that local students had also returned last week after five weeks off.

In Papua, heavy downpours helped reduce the number of hot spots in the southern part of the province from 164 last month to only four on Monday.

Meanwhile, in East Kalimantan, some 1,200 hectares of forest within the Wain River Protected Forest (HLSW), located to the north of Balikpapan, have reportedly been razed by fires in the area over the last week.

Balikpapan Environmental Agency head Suryanto said the fires had also razed two hectares of untouched primary forest in the area, forcing hundreds of wild animals to flee the forest.

“We also found many of them dead,” HLSW’s ecotourism and environmental education coordinator, Agusdin, said.

Among the affected protected animals included a mouse-deer, deer, hedgehog, pangolin and enggang birds.

In Boyolali, Central Java, the forest on the slopes of Mount Merapi caught fire on Sunday night, forcing officers from the Boyolali Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) to evacuate hundreds of climbers from the volcano.

“We have finished evacuations. The peak of Mt. Merapi is clear of climbers now. We are now focusing on extinguishing the fire,” Boyolali BPBD’s emergency section head, Kurniawan Fajar Prasetyo, said on Monday.

Nethy Dharma Somba in Jayapura, N. Adri in Balikpapan and Ganug Nugroho Adi in Boyolali contributed to this story.

Hotspots in Sumatra Rapidly Spike After Rainfall
Tempo 3 Nov 15;

TEMPO.CO, Padang-Rainfall occurring in most regions in Sumatra for the past few days were not sufficient to reduce forest fire in the area. The number of hotspots previously reduced were up again this morning.

According to Global Atmosphere Monitor Station (GAW) of Bukit Kototabang to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) on Tuesday, November 3, 200-hotspots have occurred, where it only had 7-hotspots a day before.

The most hotspots occurred in South Sumatra with 165-hotspots, followed by Bangka Belitung Island with 16-hotspots. “This is based on today’s hotpots and haze recorded at 6am,” Observation and Information Station GAW BMKG staff Albert Nahas.

Seven hotspots have also occurred in Jambi and 12 in Lampung. Luckily, the increase number of hotspots were followed by an increase in rain in Sumatra, particularly in the northern and central region thus causing to reduce haze.

In West Sumatra, said Albert, hotspots are still seen in the southern area, including South Solok and Dharmasraya, that are predicted to still be affected by haze, although not as significant as the previous week,” said Albert.


President of PT Dyera named suspect in Jambi forest fire
Antara 2 Nov 15;

Jambi (ANTARA News) - Police have named the president director of PT Dyera Hutan Lestari, with concessions in Muaro Jambi and Tanjung Jabung Timur, a suspect in forest fire case in Jambi.

Jambi police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr Kuswahyudi Tresnadi said here on Monday the president director of PT Dyera Hutan Lestari (DHL) was named a suspect on Friday last week.

Altogether, police have named four suspects among leaders of plantations companies responsible for the forest fire disaster in Jambi,Kuswahyudi Tresnadi.

The other three are Darmawan Satya Eka Pulungan, an operating manager of PT Argo Tumbuh Gemilang Abadi (ATGA) with land concession in the regency of Muaro Jambi, Munadi, the operating manager of PT RKK Muarojambi and S Purba the operating manager of PT TAL in the regency of Tebo.

Their dossiers have been handed over to the prosecution office, Kuswahyudi Tresnadi.

Police are waiting if the dossiers are not yet complete or if anything still needs to be completed.

Meanwhile, the Jambi high prosecution office said a number of forest fire cases have been reported to attorney general office in Jakarta.

The Jambi high prosecution office has received order to start investigation of two of the suspects among the company leaders.

Prosecutor F Amri from the Jambi high prosecution office said the dossier on Munadi had been sent back to police as it needs more data to back up the charges.

The dossier on Darmawan Eka Satya Pulungan is still in the process of investigation by the high prosecution office.

Indonesia can learn from Finland`s peatland handling experience
Antara 3 Nov 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia could learn from Finlands experience in handling peatlands as they cover about one-third of Finlands territory.

"Peatlands cover about one-third of Finlands territory. We should manage the peatland areas properly," Secretary of State Pratikno stated here on Tuesday.

Pratikno noted that Finland and Canada have managed to utilize the peatland areas as a source of renewable energy.

"We must improve the management of peatlands," he emphasized.

"The peatland areas are not just an Indonesian problem. Other countries too faced similar problems, and they managed to deal with them. We too have to succeed," he affirmed.

In response to an image depicting Jokowi with the indigenous tribe, Pratikno claimed that the Ministry of Social Affairs knew more about the meeting.

"Jambis indigenous tribe Suku Anak Dalam has several groups. Some of them live in houses, while others lead a nomadic life," he remarked.

Pratikno emphasized that the meeting was intended to address the aspirations of the indigenous people and remote tribes in Indonesia.

Earlier, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi and her Finnish counterpart Timo Soini had held a bilateral meeting on Monday, during which both sides agreed to explore cooperation in the field of renewable energy.

"Indonesia and Finland agreed to explore cooperation in the fields of renewable energy and information technology. In terms of renewable energy, we will utilize the peatland areas," Marsudi stated here on Monday.

According to Marsudi, peatlands cover about one-third of Finlands territory. The peatlands are utilized by the state as a source of renewable energy through the use of technology.

"The country has utilized peatlands as a source of renewable energy through the use of technology. About five to seven percent of energy is sourced from peatlands," she pointed out.

Therefore, Indonesia is keen to explore cooperation in the field of renewable energy in order to benefit from Finlands technology.

"Indonesia has numerous peatlands in several provinces," she remarked.

Therefore, the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Sudirman Said will hold a meeting with Soini on Tuesday (November 3).

Meanwhile, Soini expressed concern over the land and forest fires in several provinces across Sumatra and Kalimantan islands.

"I would like to express deep sorrow over the haze crisis in Indonesia," Soini affirmed.

During the bilateral meeting, the two ministers also discussed several bilateral issues, especially cooperation in the fields of renewable energy and information technology.

"During the visit, the foreign minister of Finland is accompanied by 11 companies representing the sectors of clean and efficient energy, infrastructure, and port management, as well as information and communication technology," Soini stated.(*)

Air pollution in Indonesia falls to its lowest levels
Francis Chan, Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Nov 15;

Air pollution levels in Kalimantan and Sumatra fell to their lowest yesterday, prompting many to wonder if this year's transboundary haze crisis has finally come to an end.

For the first time in three months, Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings from Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency showed none of the 10 cities it monitors for pollutants hit "unhealthy" levels.

Consecutive days of rain, which started a week ago today, have managed to put out most of the fires raging over forest and peatland since August this year.

At 8am local time yesterday, the PSI in the South Sumatra capital of Palembang peaked at 237, which is considered "unhealthy", but fell quickly to 129 later in the afternoon.

Other cities on Sumatra island such as Medan, Pekanbaru and Jambi, fared even better. Most did not see the PSI rise past 150 - the "moderate" zone - for most of the day.

It was the same in Kalimantan, which together with Sumatra were the two worst-hit regions in the haze crisis this year.

The PSI in the Central Kalimantan capital Palangkaraya was just four at 3pm yesterday - almost unimaginable for a city which on Oct 24 made the news for recording four- digit PSI levels of up to 2,400.

The authorities have attributed the significant improvements to the sporadic but heavy downpours that started early last week. To take advantage of the increased cloud cover over the two islands, the government has ramped up cloud-seeding operations to create artificial rain in a bid to put out the lingering fires.

Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, head of data and information at Indonesia's national disaster management agency, said there were only 402 hot spots spread over Kalimantan and Sumatra as of last Saturday, down from 2,218 the week before.

The significant improvements yesterday also prompted the Riau Environment Agency to cancel the province's haze emergency status that it had just extended on Sunday.

The central government, however, remained hesitant to call this the end of the crisis, as Indonesia is still within a dry season cycle which poses a risk of hot spots re-emerging when the rain stops.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry's director of forest fire control, Mr Raffles Panjaitan, said the weather is in a transitionary period.

"We could have roughly five days of wet weather and five days of dry weather back and forth until we have a long period of wet weather," he told The Straits Times.

"So we should not be complacent until we are in the later part of November (when the rainy season starts). Even then, we may still see a dry spell ahead, but hopefully not."

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, agrees, saying: "Maintain a tight patrol. They may burn again when a dry spell comes back in the coming days."

Meanwhile, police in Jambi province have identified five men and four plantation firms suspected of involvement in illegal forest fires, reported Tempo news yesterday.

The four firms are PT Ricky Kurniawan Kartapersada, PT Agro Tumbuh Gemilang Abadi, PT Sari Aditya Loka and PT Dyera Hutan Lestari.

This year's haze crisis, which affected millions across South-east Asia, has been statistically proven to be the worst to date. So far, 19 have died from haze-related illnesses, with over 500,000 Indonesians treated for severe lung infections.

More than 2 million ha of forests and peatland have been destroyed by the fires, believed to have been started by errant plantation firms using the outlawed slash-and-burn method to clear land for cultivation.

The authorities have started investigating several individuals and firms in connection with the crime. But some have not been named.

Singapore is hoping Indonesia will share information on the errant companies so that it too can act against the firms under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

Several members of the Indonesian Cabinet, however, have explained that it will not do so until the cases against the companies have been taken to court.