News: Indonesian Govt prepares for forest fires from El Niño

The Jakarta Post, 25 Jun 2014

Coordinating People’s Welfare Minister Agung Laksono says the government has prepared several strategies to battle forest fires, anticipating the effects of a severe drought that may be sparked by the weather phenomenon, El Niño.

Agung said August and September would be the peak period for potential forest fires, which he claimed would also be triggered by “rogue” crude palm oil (CPO) plantations that burned forests to prepare lands for their crops.

“Some of the strategies we have prepared include cloud-seeding and the provision of fire-fighting aircraft,” Agung said on Tuesday as quoted by

According to a June 22 assessment by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite in Indonesia, 60 out of the total 120 hot spots in Sumatra were located in Riau province, while there were 24 and 23 in North Sumatra and Aceh provinces, respectively.

The assessment also identified hot spots in Jambi, West Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, North Sulawesi and South Sulawesi.

Previously, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the agency had been allocated Rp 355 billion (US$29.61 million) from the state budget to fund helicopters and water bombers to fight forest fires and haze in 2014.

The Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) warned that the dry season could last longer than in previous years due to El Niño, which affects temperature and rainfall, due to start in July.

In 1997-1998 Indonesia suffered its worst El Niño spell, resulting in a severe drought that led to forest fires.

The BMKG had categorized the upcoming El Niño as normal — as the temperature would see a change of no more than 0.5 degrees Celsius — but said people should be prepared for the phenomenon as it would occur during the dry season.

The Environment Ministry warned on Thursday that the warming effect of El Niño, expected to reach the region in December, could trigger forest fires in hot spots like Riau and cause droughts nationwide throughout 2015.

Riau, with its extensive peatland areas, is prone to forest fires. In February to March this year, forest fire-related illnesses affected more than 53,000 people and caused estimated financial losses of Rp 10 trillion.