Haze fight Offcials getting ready

The Straits Times:  Haze Fight Officials getting ready to tackle yearly menace

30 May 2003

By Devi Asmarani

JAKARTA – It is time for the annual dry-season misery from the choking smokehaze but this time, officials appear better prepared to fight it. Everyprovincial office has been ordered to make plans to combat the
haze and police have been told to enforce a ban on the slash-and-burn techniqueof clearing land. Enforcement patrols would also be mounted and offendersprosecuted, said officials. The tougher stance came after a government warningof the return of severe forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra. It ordered tolocal administrations to start taking precautions. As the dry season approaches,more than 200 hot spots have been detected in Riau, North and South Sumatra andin West and Central Kalimantan. Hot spots indicate the centre of fires and foreach hot spot, there may be several closely spaced fires. The absence of rain inthe past two weeks has triggered forest and bush fires, and in areas such asRiau, officials have complained that the pollution index has shown worsening airquality. ‘The smoke haze can be felt, especially in the evening. It hurts theeyes and has an acrid burning smell,’ an official was quoted by AFP as saying.Mr Hermono Sigit, the divisional head dealing with forest fires in theEnvironment Ministry, told The Straits Times: ‘Generally, we think the situationis still under control because the climate is not that dry. But in the fireseason, which is June to September, it definitely will get drier, and the fireswill spread faster. And because of the pattern of the wind, Singapore andMalaysia will be affected.’ His ministry, in coordination with the ForestryMinistry, has issued early warnings to the local administrations which, he said,would be in
charge of handling the fires on the field. ‘We have done field observation andinformed the local governments which are the fire-prone areas,’ he said. ‘Wehave urged them to campaign against the slash-burn method of land clearing andto act firmly against plantation companies found to have used this method.’ Hesaid forest rangers had been told to conduct routine patrols to monitorcontinuously burning activities in Sumatra and Kalimantan. It now depended onthe local administrations to handle the issue effectively and efficiently, hesaid. The decentralisation of power in Indonesia, started in 2001, has reducedJakarta’s role in the management of forests. The central government can onlygive warnings and issue policies to control the fires. This has promptedMalaysia to say that it would work with the local authorities in Indonesia,instead of with the central government in Jakarta, to bettercontrol hazesources. Malaysia’s The Star newspaper yesterday quoted Science, Technology andEnvironment Minister Law Hieng Ding as saying that he had proposed the newapproach because it would be more effective. In accordance with a 2001regulation, the Indonesian government has taken legal action against severalplantation companies that burned trees when clearing their land, includingMalaysian company PT Adei Plantation. Riau Environmental Impact ManagementAgency chief Ahmad Syah was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying: ‘If no actionis taken, we will face the same fate as in the past.’


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