Jokowi orders study on waterways to prevent peatland fires

Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, inspects the work of emergency services tackling forest fires in the village of Guntung Damar, South Borneo, Indonesia, on Sept 23, 2015.
Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, inspects the work of emergency services tackling forest fires in the village of Guntung Damar, South Borneo, Indonesia, on Sept 23, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

Indonesian leader wants to keep the land from catching fire during dry season

Indonesian President Joko Widodo wants companies operating on concession land to build water bodies within their compounds to ensure peatlands do not dry up and catch fire easily during the dry season.

He said in a Facebook post yesterday that he has ordered a feasibility study to be conducted by Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar. "The only way to overcome peatlands fires is to prevent them," he said.

This initiative comes on the back of a plan on Thursday to build large canals with dams in fire-prone areas to prevent peatlands from becoming tinder for forest fires, after he visited fire-ravaged Central Kalimantan. The province was the worst hit by illegal fires this week, sending the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) to "hazardous" levels in many areas.

Pressure is mounting on the Joko administration to arrest the current haze crisis as conditions in the country and the region continue to worsen.

PSI levels in a number of cities recorded hazardous levels as at 2pm yesterday, said Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB). Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan hit 1,912, while Pekanbaru in Riau reached 401.

"This is far above the 350 PSI 'hazardous' threshold," said agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

He told The Sunday Times that the deteriorating air quality has caused tens of thousands to suffer from respiratory infections. "In Pekanbaru, there are 34,846 people; Jambi 31,191; South Sumatra 22,855; West Kalimantan, 21,130; and South Kalimantan, 53,428."

The Jakarta Post reported yesterday that police in Jambi are investigating 15 plantation firms and 28 individuals connected to illegal land-burning cases.

This follows the move by Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) on Friday to begin legal action against five Indonesian firms it believes are among the culprits behind the fires.

One of those named by the agency was Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which was ordered by the NEA to supply information on its Singapore and Indonesian subsidiaries, as well as measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concessions.

"We are coordinating with the relevant parties the appropriate responses to the NEA," said an APP spokesman yesterday.

The haze has also affected flights out of Malaysia's Sultan Abdul Aziz Airport in Subang. Flights were suspended yesterday.

There was some relief for Singapore yesterday as the 24-hour PSI reading fell to a range of 73 to 82 at 10pm, which is in the high end of the moderate range and below the unhealthy range of 101 to 200.

However, the NEA said hazy conditions are expected today.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 27, 2015, with the headline 'Jokowi orders study on waterways to prevent peatland fires'. Print Edition | Subscribe