Central govt gets involved in fight against haze

The Jakarta Post, 28 Feb 2014

The central government will send help to Riau and four other provinces to handle haze spreading from forest fires.

The government made the decision during a Cabinet meeting convened by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday, following acting Riau Governor Annas Maamun’s appeal for help.

Yudhoyono also convened the meeting to respond to reports saying that the country will experience another dry spell this year, which is predicted to be drier than last year’s.

In the Cabinet meeting, Yudhoyono also ordered the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) to assist Riau, along with other four provinces in Sumatra and four in Kalimantan, and called for action to prosecute companies causing the haze.

“The central government needs to assist Riau, as well as other provinces. The President has ordered the BNPB to help them,” Coordinating People’s Welfare Minister Agung Laksono told a press conference after the meeting.

Agung said Yudhoyono gave the order although no more hotspots were found in Riau as of Thursday morning.

The BNPB reported that as of Thursday, there were 17 hotspots in Aceh, 12 in East Kalimantan, 10 in West Kalimantan, four in Sumatra and in Southeast Kalimantan.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho confirmed that no hotspots were detected in Riau.

Governor Annas had called on the central government to help extinguish the expanding forest and peatland fires in Riau on Wednesday, or one day after he declared emergency-response status for the haze.

He acknowledged that the Riau administration was overwhelmed with the number of hotspots, which has now reached more than 1,200, with aerial firefighting showing no results.

Riau had planned to use disaster-response funds of Rp 10 billion (US$857,000) from the provincial budget to lease two helicopters, each capable of carrying 500 liters of water to carry out water-bombing. However, the plan was shelved due to strong winds and poor visibility that might endanger the helicopters.

Annas has also asked law enforcement agencies to find a way to deter people from clearing forests by employing slash-and-burn methods.

The haze, originating from fires in Riau and Jambi, has also covered Jambi in the past two days.

Jambi’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) spokesperson, Kurnianingsih, said that as of Thursday, there were some 20 hotspots in Muaro Jambi regency.

“The haze impacts visibility,” said Kurnianingsih. “[However] visibility has gradually improved from 1,500 meters at 6 a.m. to 1,700 m at 7 p.m.”

As the country is bracing for a dry season starting in April, the BNPB said it would start cloud-seeding operations to induce rain, as well as water-bombing in the coming days.

“We will also conduct a land operation to directly extinguish the hotspots, particularly those fires on peatland,” Minister Agung said.

According to Agung, around 95 percent of the forest and peatland fires were caused by humans, both individuals and corporations.

“That includes companies, not only people in the field; and also foreign citizens,” Agung said. “We are also seeking civil charges to deter them.”

Since 2013, the police have launched investigations in 41 cases, including those involving foreign companies from Malaysia and Singapore. Forest fires in Sumatra have been often accused of being the cause of haze blanketing Singapore and Malaysia.

Sutopo, however, said that Indonesia did not cause the current haze in Malaysia and Singapore.

“Based on analysis, the haze affecting areas in Malaysia and Singapore did not come from Indonesia since the wind is blowing in the opposite direction. The satellite also observed that there are few hotspots in Malaysia,” he said.