Source: The Jakarta Post, May 28, 2003 By Haidir Anwar Tanjung
Pekanbaru, Riau With the beginning of the dry season, an increasing number of forest fires have been detected in Riau and Kalimantan, raising a thick haze that could disrupt air transportation in the region and neighboring countries, Malaysia and Singapore. During this month, the local office of the Regional Environmental Impact Management Agency (Bapedalda) in Pekanbaru, Riau, detected a total of 119 hot spots in connection with the rampant conversion of forest areas into farmland and plantations in several regencies. The hot spots were spreading in five regencies: Bengkalis, Pelalawan, Indragiri Hulu, Siak and Dumai. According to a meteorology report on May 24, there were 16 major hot spots in Indragiri Hulu and Pelalawan. Riau Bapedalda Chief Ahmad Syah Harrofie regretted that the local administration, especially the local forestry office, had not learned from the past forest fires and haze in the province. “With the start of the dry season, relevant authorities should take necessary actions to prevent locals and forest concessionaire holders from burning forest areas since it has had a domino effect on the environment,” he told The Jakarta Post here on Tuesday. Ahmad said, “if no actions are taken we will be facing the same fate as in previous years. The haze that starts covering a part of the province, including the city, will disturb the air traffic not only in the province but also in neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia and could cause respiratory problems for locals”. He said further that the conversion of forest fires into farmland and plantations will threaten the habitat of rare species such as the Sumatran Tiger, elephants and rhinos in the province and cause floods during the rainy season. So far, the local administration has fined a Malaysian company PT Adei Plantation US$1.1 million for burning forest areas and sued five other companies which were allegedly involved in the same case in 2002. The five companies were PT Sindora Seraya in Rokan Hilir regency, PT Cibaliyung Plantation in Rokan Hilir, Dumai Industrial Zone, PT Tri Bhakti Sarimas in Kuantan Singingi and PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa in Rokan Hilir, Antara reported on Tuesday. The news agency also reported that the burning of forest areas has been also increasing in Central Kalimantan over the last week, disrupting routine activities in the provincial capital of Palangka Raya. Chairman of the task force for the handling forest fires in the province Ketut W. Wirawan called on the police and the local forestry office to take strong actions against individuals and forestry companies burning forests in the province. The provincial administration has deployed hundreds of personnel and tankers to put out the fires. Authorities in West Kalimantan have also taken a similar move to put out fires in several forest areas in the province. Besides disrupting air transportation in Kalimantan and Riau, the haze last year also caused the deaths of four people due to respiratory problems and disrupted school activities.