Indonesia's disaster agency spokesman laments theft of forest fire detection tools

Smoke rising from fires burning in Indonesia in 2015. At least five wildfire early detection systems in South Sumatra have gone missing since 2018, said the National Peatland Restoration Agency.
Smoke rising from fires burning in Indonesia in 2015. At least five wildfire early detection systems in South Sumatra have gone missing since 2018, said the National Peatland Restoration Agency.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesia's national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho has lamented the theft of a forest and land fire early warning system in South Sumatra, a province that is prone to wildfires.

Last Thursday (Feb 28), National Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) education task group head Suwignya Utama said at least five wildfire early detection systems had gone missing since 2018, as reported by the Antara news agency. Each was valued at around 100 million rupiah (S$9,609).

Responding to the news, Dr Sutopo, the spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) took to his Twitter account on Saturday evening to say: "Not only a tsunami early-warning buoy but also forest fire detection units (....), seismographs (and) tsunami warning sirens were stolen. We barely have enough, yet they were stolen."

Dr Sutopo said the theft of the forest and land fire warning system was a "non-structural problem that is not easily solved, similar to littering".

Each early-warning unit records the water level and humidity of peat soil as well as rainfall. All of the data recorded is sent to a central monitoring system.

The BRG has installed around 142 units in seven provinces with peatland, 21 of which are located in South Sumatra. Dr Suwignya said the theft occurred only in South Sumatra.

South Sumatra is among 16 Indonesian provinces that are prone to forest and land fires ahead of the upcoming El Nino, a climate pattern linked to warming waters in the central and eastern areas of the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

El Nino can extend the dry season in Indonesia, which can increase the risk of wildfires.

Dr Sutopo previously also spoke about the country's lack of an early warning system for tsunamis after more than 1,000 people were killed in a major earthquake and tsunami that hit Central Sulawesi last September.

Following the tragedy, Dr Sutopo said none of Indonesia's tsunami buoys had been operating since 2012, partly because local communities sometimes vandalised such early warning tools and a lack of public funding.