Indonesia's Riau readies air fleet to avert recurrence of 2019 fire and haze outbreak

In a photo from Sept 20, 2019, a fireman and volunteer university students help to put out a fire in Pekanbaru, Riau. PHOTO: ST FILE

JAKARTA - An Indonesian province is readying a fleet of cloud-seeding and water-bombing aircraft to avert a recurrence of last year's outbreak of forest and land fires as well as haze after several hot spots were detected.

Riau, which is second closest to Singapore after Riau Islands province, on Tuesday (Feb 11) night declared a state of emergency for fires.

The status will allow Jakarta to mobilise these resources, which include aircraft and helicopters, and to provide more aid to the province.

Indonesia has 34 provinces that are made up of a total of more than 500 regencies and cities.

"This is to anticipate all possibilities... a pre-emptive move," Mr Edwar Sanger, head coordinator of the Riau Disaster Management Agency, told Jakarta-based Elshinta radio on Wednesday morning.

"With the state of emergency status, everyone can get involved, and especially Riau can immediately get the procurement of aircraft and helicopters (from Jakarta) going."

Small planes are used for cloud seeding to induce rain, while helicopters are for water bombing.

Mr Edwar confirmed to The Straits Times via WhatsApp that Riau province declared a state of emergency on Tuesday night.

Riau and five other provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan were largely affected by the forest and land fires due to a prolonged dry season last year.

From January to October, 942,485ha of land across the sprawling archipelago was destroyed, according to the National Disaster Management Agency.

More than a quarter of that figure was made up of highly combustible peatland.

"We have started to see fires in Riau, but we managed to douse them. Rainfall, especially in the northern part of the province, has significantly declined," Mr Edwar said.

He pointed out that two regencies, Bengkalis and Siak, and one city, Dumai, have detected hot spots.

Unlike most other regions across Indonesia, Riau has two dry seasons a year - February to March and June to August.

The wind direction in the latter season is towards the north and the east, or in the direction of Singapore and Malaysian peninsula, according to Indonesian weather agency BMKG.

Haze shrouded Singapore on many days last September because of the smoke from forest and plantation fires in Sumatra. Rain later that month improved air quality.

The Sumatra haze also affected Peninsula Malaysia last year.

The state of emergency would protectively last to cover Riau's second dry season, according to Mr Edwar.

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