Jokowi warns of forest fires as Sumatra's hot spots rise

JAKARTA • Indonesian President Joko Widodo said yesterday that local authorities should get prepared for forest fires later this year as hot spots have been detected on the island of Sumatra.

Indonesia has suffered some of the biggest tropical forest fires outside of the Amazon and Congo in recent years, putting at risk endangered animals such as orangutans and tigers, and sending choking haze across the region.

State news agency Antara, citing a meteorology official, reported that the number of hot spots in Riau province on Sumatra island has jumped to 63 as at yesterday, from nine a day earlier.

"Ninety-nine per cent of forest fires are perpetrated by humans, whether intentional or out of negligence," said the President in a virtual meeting with officials.

Farmers often use fire as a cheap land-clearing method, Mr Joko said, calling on local governments to get forest fire containment infrastructure ready.

Mr Joko said Sumatra is facing a rising risk of forest fires this month and warned that the Kalimantan region on Borneo island, as well as Sulawesi island, could also start seeing forest fires from May to July, with the peak expected in the August to September period.

The President said that the fires could cause considerable financial losses, "not to mention the damage to our ecology and ecosystem".

Fires, which are sometimes ignited to clear land for oil palm plantations in the world's top producer of the commodity, were the most damaging in 2015, with the World Bank estimating they caused US$16.1 billion (S$21.3 billion) in damage.

In 2019, Indonesia's fires caused total damage and economic losses amounting to at least US$5.2 billion, equal to 0.5 per cent of its gross domestic product, said the World Bank.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2021, with the headline 'Jokowi warns of forest fires as Sumatra's hot spots rise'. Subscribe