Forest fires, haze continue to smother Jambi province

Forest fires, haze continue to smother Jambi province

6 June 2009

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Indonesia — The Jambi Forest and Peatland Fire Response Center (Pusdalkarlahut) announced Friday that forest and peatland fires had flared up again in the province.

Satellite imagery from the US North Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show at least 200 hotspots in the province between January and June this year, said the center’s secretary Frans Tandipau.

“We’re still checking whether the fires were set by farmers and plantation companies,” he said.

The highest number of hotspots was recorded in May, with 91 spots, and the lowest was in June, with 17.

The hotspots were located in eight of Jambi’s 11 regencies and municipalities: Muarojambi, East and West Tanjungjabung, Batanghari Tebo, Bungo, Merangin and Sarolangun. Most of the hotspots were located in Tebo (48), followed by Bungo and Merangin (39 each), Sarolangun (20), East Tanjungjabung (17), Muarojambi (15), Batanghari (13) and West Tanjungjabung (9).

The number of hotspots will likely increase this month, given the current dry spell and clear-cutting of forests for farmland and estates, carried out by local residents and plantation companies. Burning trees is the cheapest and easiest method of clear-cutting.

Despite most of the fires being set intentionally by people, Frans admitted there had been a drop in the number of fires from year to year, showing that people and plantation companies were now more aware of the danger of razing down forests.

“We hope there won’t be any more forest fires, so the number of hotspots will fall,” he said.

Jambi Governor Zulkifli Nurdin said recently that forest and peatland fires would had adverse impacts on local communities.

He pointed out fires affect the potentials of the agricultural, forestry and other economic sectors, cause health hazards for humans, and severely damage the biodiversity of huge swaths of forest areas.

However, Zulkifli also said forest fires had gradually dropped in number over the past several years in Jambi.

In 2006, 6,692 hotspots were detected, while in 2007 that figure had dropped to 2,782.

It surged again in 2008, with 20,010 hotspots detected.

“Despite the significant drop *between 2006 and 2007*, forest fire management and coordination remains weak,” the governor said.

He added forest fire handling was subject to human resources, equipment and funding constraints. He said the best way to reduce the number of hotspots was to develop the rural communities’ human resource capacity.

“They should be given alternatives other than farming, and be educated on the dangers and impacts of forest fires and haze,” Zulkifli said.

“They should also be encouraged to play an active role in fighting fires.”

He called on regency and municipal administrations to increase funding for quality fire fighting programs and equipment, and improve coordination with local fire command posts.

The governor also called for the formation of district-level task forces and an increase in the number of fire brigades and teams in fire-prone areas.

Residents of Kerinci regency have complained of the haze from forest fires, despite the local administration’s claims the regency is free of hotspots.

The haze is believed to have come from other areas where forests were being clear-cut and farmers were burning straw after the rice harvest.

The thick haze has curtailed visibility and led to a rise in eye and respiratory problems.

“My eyes feel very sore when I ride my motorbike,” said Anto, an ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver in Sungaipenuh.

Kerinci Forestry Office head Erwan said satellite imagery had shown no hotspots in the regency, adding the haze could have been blown there from elsewhere.

“We in Kerinci don’t produce haze. It has likely been carried over from other areas by the wind,” he said.

Forest fires continue to rage on in the Kumun forest in Kumun Debai district, believed to have been started by farmers in Koto Lebu Kumun.

Earlier fires burned in the Pendung forest in Air district, East Ai Hangat, and Tanjung Pauh in Keliling Danau district, razing dozens of hectares of forest.

The provincial administration is on high alert for forest fires, due to the current dry spell that could fuel bigger and more frequent fires.

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