No Relief In Sight as Kalimantan Battles Fires

No Relief In Sight as Kalimantan Battles Fires

6 October 2007

published by The Jakarta Post

Rain around the city of Banjar Baru on Friday failed to slow the spread of forest fires in South Kalimantan, as a forest reserve in East Kalimantan raised its alert status to the second highest level. In the past three days, fires have engulfed 10 hectares of the South Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Center, with authorities only able to extinguish fires on two hectares of land near Syamsuddin Noor Airport.

The center’s head in South Kalimantan, Amir Hamzah Kertawijaya, said they have deployed two teams from the Forest and Land Fire Control Brigade to battle the blazes. At least 1,370 separate fire hotspots have been detected across Kalimantan over the past week, with 137 hotspots spotted in South Kalimantan alone.

Amir said this year’s fire season was better than last year, but still bad. He blamed most of the fires on a prolonged drought and farmers burning their land to clear it for planting. “The South Kalimantan provincial administration has warned and advised farmers not to burn the forest. “Even the South Kalimantan Indonesian Ulema Council has issued an edict which declares setting forest fires haram (forbidden in Islam). But there are negligent farmers who disobey the prohibition,” Amir told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

However, the deputy director of the South Kalimantan chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, Eko Luruh Jatmiko, said it was wrong to blame farmers. Instead, he blamed poor spatial planning for worsening forest fires.

“If the farmers’ activities were responsible for forest fires, then we would have lost our forests dozens of years ago.” He said building canals around peatland in Banjar Baru was not a solution since the canals would dry up during the dry season and the peatland would be vulnerable to fires.

“The city’s spatial plan should be first taken care to prevent forest fires from becoming an annual tradition,” Eko said.

In East Kalimantan, the Sungai Wain Forest Reserve management has declared its second highest alert status in the region after hotspots were detected nearby.

“We have anticipated the spread of fires by declaring the second highest alert status since the fires have inched closer to our border,” said Agusdin, who heads the forest reserve’s security division.

In Sumatra, authorities have had some success in battling forest fires, with fewer hotspots being detected. According to data from the South Sumatra Forestry Office, 221 hotspots were recorded as of Thursday, a decline from 366 hotspots on Tuesday.

“Satellite observation helps in taking early preventative measures,” Achmad Taufik, an official with the office, told the Post on Friday.

Across South Sumatra, fires have engulfed 99 hectares of forest as of September this year, most, or some 40 hectares, in Muara Enim regency. The number of hotspots recorded in Riau province has varied each day, but the peak was Sept. 29 when 118 hotspots were spotted in six regencies.

According to an official at the Sultan Syarif Airport’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, Drajat Bintoro, the arrival of the rainy season in parts of Riau had helped bring the forest fire problem under control.

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