Indonesia May Again ‘Export’ Toxic Haze From Forest Fires

Indonesia May Again’Export’ Toxic Haze From Forest Fires

19 February 2008

published by The Jakarta Post

Indonesia — Spreading forest fires in Riau province may further damageIndonesia’s reputation among its neighbors for producing choking haze.

At least 5,000 hectares have so far been destroyed by fires in theregencies of Dumai, Rokan Hilir and Bengkalis, according to data at the localadministration. About 2,000 hectares of forest were destroyed in Dumai andanother 1,000 hectares in Rokan Hilir. In Bengkalis, fires razed an area ofabout 2,000 hectares comprised mostly of oil palm plantations.

Hundreds of personnel from the forest fire fighting agency, along with soldiers,policemen and fire fighters from a number of companies are attempting toextinguish the fires and prevent them from spreading into residential areas.

Three helicopters were deployed to the fire sites to aid the effort. “Wehave to prevent the fire from expanding so as not to allow it to affect localpeople … or blow into the neighboring countries,” Riau Governor RusliZainal said Monday.

Data recorded Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)showed at least 23 areas in Sumatra with fires, of which 10 were located in Riauprovince. In Riau province, Dumai was worst affected, while Bengkalis, Siak,Rokan Hilir, Pelalawan and Indragiri Hulu also had fires.

The fires were mainly restricted to forest land and plantations. Smoke from thefires has yet to move beyond the province, according to the agency.

Despite the small losses incurred from fires thus far, the potential fordestructions has reached an alarming 83 on a scale of 100, according to ananalysis from the Pekanbaru office of the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency.

Authorities and residents are required to be on alert as rain is not predictedto fall in the area until the end of the month.

“Over the next few days, the rainfall will still be concentrated on thesouthern part of the equator. The Nicholas storm, which hit parts of Australia,has also prevented the creation of cloud in Riau,” head of the office’sdata analysis section Yohanes Drajat Bintoro said.

Monitoring of several locations by the Riau Health Office showed air quality hadalready reached the maximum tolerable level of 90 parts per million (ppm).”This has the potential to cause respiratory illness,” BurhanuddinAgung, an official at the office, said. Burhanuddin said his office would hold acoordination meeting to discuss ways to deal with the problem, includingcalculating the number of people with respiratory problems, and inventoryingstocks of masks in the province.

“All hospital and community health centers have been ordered to be onstandby in anticipation for the possible rising number of patients withrespiratory problems,” he said.

Fire extinguishing efforts at Selingsing village in Dumai were facingdifficulties because the peatland in the area is easily flammable.

“The fires at nearby Sepahat village have been put out, but haze continuesto billow from the area,” Jusman, head of the fire fighting team, said.

“I’ve already urged the local people not to try a kind of slash-and-burnapproach to their farming activities during the dry season,” Governor Rusli

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