Indonesia: Dozens of hot spots already being detected around the country

Ina Parlina, The Jakarta Post 28 Feb 16;

While a substantial part of Indonesia is still in the wet season, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has recorded that a total of 69 hot spots have been detected in numerous areas in the country on Saturday — a telltale sign of a possible haze crisis.

Of the 69 hot spots, the Terra and Aqua satellites detected 14 in Riau, six in North Sumatra, three in South Aceh, 38 in East Kalimantan, one in North Kalimantan, two in Papua and four in South Sulawesi.

Although work has been carried out to contain some of the 69 hot spots, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho warned that forest and land fires “will continue as they are related to people’s habits and their way of living [through slash-and-burn practices for clearing land], poor law enforcement measures, local politics and other social issues”.

Last year, fires spread across a total of 2.61 million hectares of forest and peatland, resulting in choking haze blanketing numerous areas for about five months, including also some parts of neighboring countries. The haze left at least 21 people dead and caused respiratory problems for more than half a million people.

The fires also cost the economy Rp 221 trillion (US$16.5 billion), or around 1.9 percent of the country’s GDP, according to the BNPB. While the World Bank has estimated that Indonesia’s economy lost $16 billion due to the fires, more than double what was spent on rebuilding Aceh after the 2004 tsunami.

Efforts to extinguish the fires cost the BNPB alone around Rp 734.5 billion.

A number of efforts to anticipate potential fires this year have been taken following President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s instructions, including the formation of a special body tasked with restoring the peatland ecosystem.

Many have called on the government to step up its efforts to stop illegal logging, as well as changing the routine use of slash-and-burn, if the country is serious about ending forest and peatland fires.

“We can’t stop the [slash-and-burn] method simply by imposing a ban since the reason behind it is economic. We have to find a practical solution,” he said.

The government will continue efforts to anticipate forest fires despite predictions that this year’s dry season will not be as dry as last year, as the El Niño weather phenomenon is expected to end in April, while the onset of La Nina is thought to be able to mitigate the effects of the dry season.

“The rainy season is expected to come earlier and bring a higher intensity of rain. Such conditions will help us in dealing with forest and land fires,” Sutopo said.

The number of hot spots in Sumatra, where most of the hot spots have been reported, has fluctuated in the past couple of days.

The Pekanbaru office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) confirmed that satellites found 23 hot spots in three provinces in Sumatra, Aceh, Riau and North Sumatra, on Saturday morning, with Riau having the most hot spots with 14.

Around 13 hotspots found in Riau’s Bengkalis regency indicated forest and land fires, said BMKG Pekanbaru head Sugarin.

Antara news wire also reported that about 163 villages out of a total of 1,800 villages and subdistricts were vulnerable to forest fires this year.

On Friday, the Terra and Aqua satellites detected 47 hot spots across Sumatra, up from 45 on Thursday afternoon, despite a downpour over the past few days.

Citing past patterns, the BNPB predicted that hot spots in Sumatra might occur mostly between June and October and in Kalimantan from July to October. As for Riau, potential fires might occur between February and April due to dry weather there.

BMKG Pekanbaru would intensify coordination with the local disaster mitigation office to anticipate any potential fires, said Sugarin.

Terra and Aqua Satellites detects 68 hotspots over Sumatra Island
Antara 28 Feb 16;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - The Meteorology Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) of Pekanbaru detected 68 hotspots that dotted Sumatra Island on Sunday.

"The Terra and Aqua Satellites sensors identified 68 hotspots today, the highest number identified in this week," Head of Data and Information Center of Pekanbaru BMKG Slamet Riyadi said here on Sunday.

Two provinces which have the most hotspots were Riau with 28 and North Sumatra with 17 hotspots.

Meanwhile, Bengkulu was dotted with nine hotspots, Aceh with seven hotspots, West Sumatra with six hotspots, and Riau Island with only one of them.

The satellite imagery showed that the 28 hotspots in Riau spread in some districts namely Bengkalis (19), Pelalawan (5), Siak (3), and Indragiri Hilir (1) with a confidence level above 70 percent.

Meanwhile, Head of Pekanbarus BMKG Sugarin said the number of hotspots in Riau Province follow the trend of increasing occurrence especially in its coastal of southern region.

"The southern coast of Riau tend to have a faster arrival of the dry season compared to those of the north," Sugarin said.

Previously, local Regional Military Command (Korem) has stated 164 out of around 1,800 villages in Riau are prone to forest and land fires following the incoming dry season.

(Reporting by Muhammad Said/Uu.A059/A014)

Minister orders early containment of fires in Kalimantan, Sumatra
Haeril Halim, Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 29 Feb 16;

The Home Ministry has ordered local administrations in Kalimantan and Sumatra to launch preventive measures to contain forest fire after the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) discovered a growing number of hot spots in the two provinces.

In Sumatra, small fires were detected in 68 locations on Sunday, which, if not tackled immediately could grow bigger to become forest fires in the near future. Satellite data also showed 38 hot spots in East Kalimantan and one in North Kalimantan on the same day.

The ministry said on Sunday that local administrations in the two provinces had followed up on its instructions by launching a joint operation with local branches of the BNPB, the police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) to contain the growing hot spots.

Failures to contain hot spots last year resulted in the burning of 2.61 million hectares of forest and peatlands in Sumatra and Kalimantan, causing a choking haze for about five months and leaving 21 people dead and more than a half-a-million people suffering from respiratory problems.

“Local administrations [must also] map areas prone to fires in their jurisdictions. They are cooperating with all related parties including the police, the TNI, social and health agencies and the Indonesian Red Cross [PMI],” Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo told The Jakarta Post.

A problem with the instruction is that failure to comply with it carries no punishment or sanctions for local officers, but Tjahjo said that tight monitoring would be carried out by the ministry to ensure that local leaders did their best to prevent forest fires.

“If they cannot afford preventative action [...] they should make a report to the central government,” Tjahjo added.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho confirmed on Sunday that local efforts had been made in Sumatra and Kalimantan to put out the growing small fires, and had already decreased the number of hot spots from 69 in Sumatra and 24 in East Kalimantan on Saturday.

However, the number of fires in North Kalimantan increased to four on Sunday due to intensive land clearing by local farmers.

“Kutai Kartanegara and East Kutai [regencies] started to see fires 2 weeks ago. Our satellite always detects new fires there. It means that new land clearing keeps happening,” Sutopo added.

Last year’s fire crisis cost the economy Rp 221 trillion (US$16.5 billion), or around 1.9 percent of the country’s GDP, or more than double what was spent on rebuilding Aceh after the 2004 tsunami.

In addition, efforts to extinguish the fires cost the BNPB alone around Rp 734.5 billion. That amount does not include the hundreds of billions of rupiah spent by related ministries and government agencies on fire-containment efforts last year.

Fire-containment efforts in Kalimantan and Sumatra this year include the establishment of canal separators in a number places, Sutopo explained, adding that “any emergence of new fires will be automatically dealt with by local officers”.

Although it is difficult to imagine no fires at all in Kalimantan and Sumatra due to the huge area of peatlands and forests prone to fires there, this year’s fires are expected to be far less serious than last year’s because 2016 has seen a relatively wet dry season compared with 2015.

“The El Niño weather phenomenon is expected to end in April, then the onset of La Niña will be stronger which will make this year’s dry season relatively wet across Indonesia. This situation will assist fire containment efforts for the whole year,” Sutopo added.