Indonesia steps up bid to curb land fires

The provincial governments of Riau, South Sumatra and West, South and Central Kalimantan have declared a state of emergency to deal with the fires.
The provincial governments of Riau, South Sumatra and West, South and Central Kalimantan have declared a state of emergency to deal with the fires.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA • Indonesia is stepping up efforts to prevent a repeat of the haze that blanketed much of South-east Asia four years ago by deploying thousands of firefighters and emergency response teams to its main palm oil and rubber producing regions.

The authorities have declared a state of emergency in some provinces after detecting 84 hot spots. More than 9,000 personnel from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, the military, police, environmental groups and private companies, including Asia Pulp and Paper Co, have been deployed to combat the fires so far this season.

A long and unusually dry season this year is affecting an estimated 11.8 million ha of land across the archipelago, with the livelihoods of 48.5 million people at risk, according to the Coordinating Ministry of Human Development and Culture.

This has revived memories of the 2015 haze, which blanketed Singapore, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand for more than a month.

The provincial governments of Riau, South Sumatra and West, South and Central Kalimantan have declared a state of emergency to deal with the fires.

The government has already warned of the risk to its rice crop from the long dry spell that is expected to last until October.

Forest fires from illegal burning to clear land for the palm oil and paper industries are a recurrent event in South-east Asia's biggest economy. Their frequent occurrence prompted President Joko Widodo to order a moratorium on new permits to clear forest and peat land for oil palm cultivation.

Riau, one of the country's main oil palm growing regions, is the worst affected province this year, with fires scorching about 28,000ha of land already, the disaster mitigation agency said in a statement yesterday.

The agency had detected 27 hot spots in Riau, 26 in Jambi, 14 in Central Kalimantan, 12 in West Kalimantan and five in South Sumatra as of Monday.

It has deployed 33 helicopters for water bombing in Riau, South Sumatra, West and Central Kalimantan.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2019, with the headline 'Indonesia steps up bid to curb land fires'. Print Edition | Subscribe