Indonesia — As haze shrouded Sumatras cities over the past two months, President Yudhoyono has ordered strict law enforcement to deal with forest fires mostly set deliberately and unlawfully to clear land for plantation and farming.
To give deterrent effect especially on corporations, law enforcement must be carried out quickly and effectively from investigations to trial in court, the president was quoted by Coordinating Minister for Peoples Welfare Agung Laksono in Jakarta on Feb. 27, 2014.
Legal sanction must be imposed against both domestic and foreign corporations, which were proven to have burnt forests illegally to clear land for business purposes, he stated.
Chief of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Syamsul Maarif stated that around 99 percent of forest and plantation fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan were deliberately set.
“There should be sanctions to stop recurrences. Slash-and-burn farming methods indeed exist in Sumatra and Kalimantan, but the most important thing is that it should be controlled,” Syamsul Maarif noted in a statement on Feb. 28.
According to Maarif, the Indonesian police have named 23 suspects in Riau and 16 in Central Kalimantan for allegedly setting the fires deliberately.
“There are several factors behind their decision to set fires in plantation and forest areas, such as economic, social and cultural factors,” he explained.
Dry rainy season in Sumatra and Kalimantan has triggered forest and plantation fires that produced haze. The NOAA 18 satellite on Feb. 27 detected 17 hotspots in Aceh, 12 in East Kalimantan, 10 in West Kalimantan, four in North Sumatra and fort in North Kalimantan.
This year, the worst hit province is Riau, which has suffered losses worth Rp10 trillion due to the haze.
In the province, hundreds of people fled to safer areas due to thick haze; several Sumatran tigers left their habitat as their habitat was on fire; 43,386 people suffered from respiratory problems, and many flights were cancelled as the visibility dropped drastically.
Taking into consideration the huge impact it has caused, the Riau provincial administration has declared a state of emergency effective from Feb. 25, 2014. It has categorized the forest, plantation, and peatland fires as an extraordinary event.
Earlier, of the provinces 12 districts/cities, seven districts including Bengkalis, Rokan Hilir, Indragiri Hulu, Indragiri Hilir, Siak, Pelalawan, and Meranti and Dumai city had elevated the fire alert level to a state of emergency.
Following the declaration of emergency, Commander of the Military Regional Command Brigadier General Prihadi Agus Irianto has set a target of 14 days, within which a special operation to extinguish the forest fires in Riau will be completed.
“We have set a target for the haze emergency response that within 14 days the fires will be extinguished,” Irianto informed Antara, at the Haze Emergency Response Command Post, Roesmin Nurjadin Airbase in Pekanbaru, on February 27.
The Riau provincial police on Feb. 28 announced that 40 individuals have been named as suspects in the forest and plantations fires across several districts and cities.
“All of them have been detained after being identified as suspects for allegedly setting fires deliberately since the past several weeks,” Senior Commissioner Estuning of the Riau polices commander of the plantation fire task force, informed the press.
The suspects were all individuals, she added. “The cases allegedly involving companies are still under investigation,” she pointed out.
The Riau police that have set up a legal enforcement task force are currently investigating 31 fire cases in Riau, she explained.
All suspects are being handled by each of their respective regions such as Bengkalis, Meranti, Rokan Hilir, Siak, Pekanbaru and Dumai City.
She pointed out that the number of suspects might increase considering there have been many fire cases occurring in the province.
Riau Police Chief Inspector General Condro Kirono in Pekanbaru on Feb. 13 stated that the forest fire suspects were charged under Law No. 18 of 2004 on plantations, with a punishment calling for a maximum 10 years imprisonment, and a maximum fine of Rp10 billion.
Those arrested were also charged under Law No. 26 of 2007 on Spatial Planning.
In 2013, the Riau Police had apprehended 33 people suspected in the burning of forests that produced haze shrouding not only across Sumatras cities, but also parts of Singapore and Malaysia.
This year, the BNPB has allocated Rp300 billion to combat forest, peatland and plantation fires by land and air.
“The budget will be used according to the needs,” BNPB chief Syamsul Maarif stated.
In addition to strict law enforcement, the key to overcome land and forest fires is information campaign and massive and total fire extinguishing efforts, Maarif pointed out.
Massive handling through the three operations must be done and, based on past experiences, it has been effective “as proven by the fact that the smog that spread to Malaysian and Singapore last year, was overcome within 1-2 weeks,” he added.
The BNPB has held coordination meetings with ministries, legal enforcers, institutions, regional disaster mitigation services and regional governments.
To support the processes, a total of 1,524 military and police personnel have been prepared to conduct operations on land, water bombing and weather modification, he added.
“Indeed the operations are expensive, worth up to Rp100.38 billion. Efforts certainly will be more efficient and effectively through law enforcement and information campaign as preventive measures,” he explained.
Two battalions of the Armys personnel and 1,755 personnel of the forestry ministrys fire brigade have been deployed to extinguish the fires.
Two BE-200 Amphibian aircraft, two Kamov helicopters, two Sikorsky helicopters, and four Bolco helicopter will be deployed to drop water bombs. Two Hercules C-130 and six Casa 212 aircraft will be used to modify the weather in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
During a ministerial-level coordinating meeting in the office of the coordinating minister for peoples welfare on Feb. 27, the chief of the meteorological, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG) announced that 70 percent of Indonesias region will begin to have drought in April, May, and June 2014.
This years dry season is expected to be drier than that of last year as Indonesia is going to experience El Nino phenomena.
Usually, forest and plantation fires are rampant in Sumatra in July-October, and in Kalimantan in August-October. So, the threats of forest fires are still far from over.