Indonesia — The Environment Ministry announced on Monday that it had selected Bengkalis district in Riau to host a pilot project aimed at preventing forest fires.
Gusti Muhammad Hatta, the environment minister, said Bengkalis had been chosen because of its proximity to both Singapore and Malaysia, which have since 1997 been affected by the haze from forest fires in Riau and other parts of Sumatra.
Both countries have complained about the pollution, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has drawn up an agreement on providing regional cooperation to combat haze from forest fires, which Indonesia has yet to ratify.
Speaking in Sepahat village, Gusti said the government ultimately wanted to slash the number of hot spots, or individual forest fires, by 20 percent a year.
Ive been tasked by the president to achieve this target, he said. Fortunately for us, because of the rains, the number of hot spots last year was down 70 percent. However, we still need to stay very alert for land and forest fires.
Gusti added that his ministry would support the Bengkalis pilot project by drafting the necessary policies for it, supervising it and preparing the funding.
Well also support the project by distributing portable water pumps and communication devices, which are lacking here.
Herliyan Saleh, head of Bengkalis district, said his administration would be setting up monitoring posts in villages considered high- risk areas for wildfires.
Well also try to set up an on-call operational budget that can be released immediately once a fire is reported, he said.
Moreover, well concentrate on managing our water resources and peat lands. The important thing is to have proper law enforcement.
Herman, a volunteer from the Sepahat Anti-Fire Community, a task force of local residents, said the group had found it difficult containing large forest blazes because of a lack of proper firefighting equipment.
We work in shifts to monitor the fields, so we tend to spot the fires most of the time, he said.
However, while we can put out a fire thats spread over a 20-square-meter area, we dont have the necessary equipment to take on anything bigger than that.
Herliyan said forest fires were common around Sepahat village, pointing out that around 5,000 hectares of land there was burned down last year.
Plantation firms account for around 13 percent of the hot spots in Riau, according to the Environment Ministry, while loggers account for 7 percent.
Fires in production forests make up 12 percent of hot spots, while the remainder is due to other causes, including slash-and-burn methods by subsistence farmers to clear forests for planting.
The government has named Riau, Jambi, North Sumatra, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan as priority provinces to reduce the number of hot spots and prevent land and forest fires.