Riau declares early state of emergency to fight haze

A man trying to put out a field fire in Pekanbaru, Riau, last Wednesday. The province has declared emergency status for forest and land fires for 96 days.
A man trying to put out a field fire in Pekanbaru, Riau, last Wednesday. The province has declared emergency status for forest and land fires for 96 days.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA • Indonesia's fire-prone Riau province has declared a state of emergency after President Joko Widodo urged the regional authorities to avoid a repeat of fires that smothered South-east Asia in smog in 2015.

Indonesia faces global pressure to put an end to slash-and-burn land clearances for palm and pulp plantations which send clouds of toxic smoke over the region each year.

Riau, on the western island of Sumatra, announced the move after a few hot spots - areas of extreme heat detected by satellites which often indicate fires - were sighted this month.

Yesterday's move is intended to help Riau, which sits a stone's throw across the Malacca Strait from wealthy city-state Singapore, to begin taking preventive steps as drier weather is expected this year compared to last year.

"The province of Riau today declared emergency status for forest and land fires for 96 days," National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho told Reuters.

The 2015 fires were among the worst on record, straining ties with neighbours and costing Indonesia an estimated 220 trillion rupiah (S$23.4 billion) in economic losses, or about 1.9 per cent of gross domestic product, Mr Joko's office has said.

Every year, Indonesia faces criticism from its neighbours Singapore and Malaysia over the smog, euphemistically known as haze, and its failure to stop the fires from being lit.

Data from the state weather agency shows drier weather in store for Indonesia this year, which the authorities fear could spark more fires.

"We hope that at the beginning of this year there is planning and quick action (so) we can prevent forest and land fires in 2017," said Mr Joko.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'Riau declares early state of emergency to fight haze'. Print Edition | Subscribe