Haidir Anwar Tanjung, The Jakarta Post, Pekanbaru, Riau
With the beginning of the dry season, an increasingnumber of forest fires have been detected in Riau and Kalimantan, raising athick haze that could disrupt air transportation in the region and neighboringcountries,Malaysia and Singapore.During this month, the local office of theRegional Environmental Impact Management Agency (Bapedalda) in Pekanbaru, Riau,detected a total of 119 hot spots in connection with the rampant conversion offorest 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 were16 major hot spots in Indragiri Hulu and Pelalawan.Riau Bapedalda Chief AhmadSyah Harrofie regretted that the local administration, especially the localforestry office, had not learned fromthe past forest fires and haze in theprovince.
“With the start of the dry season, relevantauthorities should take necessary actions to prevent locals and forestconcessionaire holders from burning forest areas since it has had a dominoeffect on the environment,” he told The Jakarta Post here on Tuesday.
Ahmad said, “if no actions are taken we will befacing the same fate as in previous years. The haze that starts covering a partof the province, including the city, will disturb the air traffic not only inthe province but also in neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysiaand could cause respiratory problems for locals”. He said further that theconversion of forest fires into farmland and plantations will threaten thehabitat of rare species such as the Sumatran Tiger, elephants and rhinos in theprovince and cause floods during the rainy season. So far, the localadministration has fined a Malaysian company PT Adei Plantation US$1.1 millionfor burning forest areas and sued five other companies which were allegedlyinvolved in the same case in 2002.
The five companies were PT Sindora Seraya in RokanHilir regency, PT Cibaliyung Plantation in Rokan Hilir, Dumai Industrial Zone,PT Tri Bhakti Sarimas in Kuantan Singingi and PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa in RokanHilir, Antara reported on Tuesday.
The news agency also reported that the burning offorest 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 forestfires in the province Ketut W. Wirawan called on the police and the localforestry office to take strong actions against individuals and forestrycompanies burning forests in the province.
The provincial administration has deployed hundreds ofpersonnel and tankers to put out the fires. Authorities in West Kalimantan havealso taken a similar move to put out fires in several forest areas in theprovince.
Besides disrupting air transportation in Kalimantan andRiau, the haze last year also caused the deaths of four people due torespiratory problems and disrupted school activities.