JAKARTA – Indonesian President B.J. Habibie, warning of an environmental disaster, called yesterday for action to stop forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo from spreading. “I just want to remind you of the need for us to be ready in facing the forest fire disaster,” Habibie said at the opening of an environmental workshop.
Habibie said he had received reports concerning fires in both Sumatra and Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo.
“Therefore, related departments and institutions must soon coordinate to take steps to prevent the fires becoming more widespread as soon as possible,” he said.
“If this happens the disaster to our environment will get worse,” Habibie said. He said efforts should not be halted even if it took a long time and cost a lot of money.
Environment Minister Panangian Siregar said that in Kalimantan most of the fires had been set by the ordinary people while in Sumatra some had been set by plantations.
The fires have raised concerns in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia that there could be a repeat of the thick smog which blanketed the region as a result of burn-offs two years ago.
Environmental experts have accused Habibie’s government of doing little to tackle the blazes and of being preoccupied with his bid for a second term as president.
Experts at the World Wide Fund for Nature said on Monday that satellite imagery over the weekend indicated Kalimantan now had more hotspots that Sumatra.
However, WWF said new hotspots had been found in three more provinces in Sumatra island, including its most northern and southern provinces, Aceh and Lampung.
Residents in some areas have taken to wearing masks to keep the smoke out of their lungs.