Riau extends haze emergency by a month

Officials see possibility of new hot spots in Riau forests as fires burn in South Sumatra

Cars and motorcycles are seen on a bridge as haze shrouds Pekanbaru, in Indonesia's Riau province, on Sept 30, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA • The authorities in Riau, the Indonesian province that is second-closest to Singapore, have extended its haze emergency status by another month even as four airports in Sumatra and Kalimantan stayed shut over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Vice- President Jusuf Kalla said the government is preparing to hold an international conference on peatland management with the aim of preventing the burning of dry peat, which has caused the choking haze in the region.

The Regional Disaster Management Agency (BPBD) in the Riau capital of Pekanbaru decided to extend the emergency as there are still hot spots in next-door South Sumatra province, while significant rainfall has yet to take place in Riau itself.

"All members of the forest firefighting team have agreed that the emergency status will be extended by 30 days to Nov 30," said Riau BPBD chairman Edward Sanger last Saturday, as reported by the Tempo news website.

He said the decision was made during a meeting on Friday.

The emergency status, which was set to expire on Nov 1, was extended as officials took into account the possibility of new hot spots emerging in Riau forests, after watching the continuing conflagration in South Sumatra and the paltry rainfall seen in Riau so far.

Riau province first declared a haze emergency in the middle of September when forest fires in the province and the neighbouring provinces of Jambi and South Sumatra became worse.

"We coordinated with the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency before extending the emergency status," Mr Edward said.

He said members of the BPBD team will increase their efforts to prevent forest fires during the 30 days of the extended emergency period.

The Indonesian province closest to Singapore is the Riau Islands province, which includes Batam and Bintan.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said his ministry maintained the closure of two airports in Sumatra and two in Kalimantan due to the thick smoke from the forest fires last Saturday.

The airports are located in the South Sumatra and Jambi provinces and in South Kalimantan province, Mr Jonan said in Yogyakarta last Saturday. He had said recently that the haze had forced the closure of between 23 and 35 airports across the country.

In Jakarta, Vice-President Kalla said yesterday that peatland restoration on several Indonesian islands can prevent future fires, the Antara news agency reported.

"The most important thing to prevent haze disaster is peatland restoration. The effort is needed because burning peatland creates more smoke than when trees in the forest are burning," he said.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan and the Environment and Forestry Ministry are making preparations for a conference to throw up ideas on peatland management, Mr Kalla added.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline Riau extends haze emergency by a month. Subscribe