Sumatra, Indonesia — Choking haze from forest fires in Riau and Jambi has blanketed North Sumatra for several days and threatens to spread to neighboring countries.
Based on reports from the Meteorological and Geophysics Agency (BMG), the haze has reduced visibility to between three and five kilometers since May 18, from around 8 km previously, but has yet to disrupt flight schedules thus far.
The recent poor visibility in North Sumatra was attributed to haze from forest fires in Riau and Jambi, BMG Medan data division head Firman said.
Riau and Jambi contributed most to the situation despite the declining number of hotspots recorded in Sumatra over the past week, he said.
“Based on satellite images, we recorded 372 hotspots in Sumatra on May 17. This number had decreased to 207 the following day, and had further declined to 97 by May 20, but most of these were in Riau and Jambi,” Firman told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
Firman predicted that North Sumatra would be likely to experience choking haze until early June.
In Pekanbaru, Riau, the current intense heat in the lead-up to the dry season has raised concerns over the intensity of forest and peatland fires.
Riau Governor Rusli Zainal has alerted relevant agencies and the provincial population to prepare to prevent the spread of forest and peatland fires.
“The current extreme weather conditions in Riau could pose a hazard for the 4.044 million hectares of peatland — around 56.1 percent of the total Riau area.
“The risk of forest and peatland fires will continue until serious efforts are made to prevent and mitigate them,” Rusli said.
Rusli called on regency and city administrations to revitalize forest fire mitigation posts up to a district level.
Rusli said these posts could serve as a spearhead to further educate people from engaging in slash and burn methods to clear land.
“We have also urged police to take stern actions against people caught starting fires in forests,” he said.
It is vital to prevent the recurring haze problem, Rusli said, because it could taint the image of the province.
“Riau has often become the subject of public attention as a producer of haze,” he said, “so we must make strenuous efforts to prevent it.”
The Riau provincial administration, as well as the forestry, agriculture and environment ministers, have made a commitment with 80 companies in the province to work together to prevent and fix the haze problem.
“These companies are committed to not resort to burning forests or peatland around their concession areas. They are also obliged to help with efforts to extinguish fires in their areas,” he said.
Pekanbaru BMG analysis division head Aristya Ardhitama said haze had developed in a number of areas in Riau and could potentially spread to neighboring countries.
“Given the current wind patterns, the haze in Riau has the potential to blow toward the Malacca Strait,” he said.
Riau Natural Resource Conservation Center head Rachman Siddik regretted the lack efforts made by agencies responsible to extinguish the fires.
“The administration should have set an alert status for forest fires mitigation, but so far these agencies have done nothing,” Rachman said.