Minister orders early containment of fires in Kalimantan, Sumatra

Minister orders early containment of fires in Kalimantan, Sumatra 

29 February 2016

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Indonesia–  The Home Ministry has ordered local administrations in Kalimantan and Sumatra to launch preventive measures to contain forest fire after the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) discovered a growing number of hot spots in the two provinces.

In Sumatra, small fires were detected in 68 locations on Sunday, which, if not tackled immediately could grow bigger to become forest fires in the near future. Satellite data also showed 38 hot spots in East Kalimantan and one in North Kalimantan on the same day.

The ministry said on Sunday that local administrations in the two provinces had followed up on its instructions by launching a joint operation with local branches of the BNPB, the police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) to contain the growing hot spots.

Failures to contain hot spots last year resulted in the burning of 2.61 million hectares of forest and peatlands in Sumatra and Kalimantan, causing a choking haze for about five months and leaving 21 people dead and more than a half-a-million people suffering from respiratory problems.

“Local administrations [must also] map areas prone to fires in their jurisdictions. They are cooperating with all related parties including the police, the TNI, social and health agencies and the Indonesian Red Cross [PMI],” Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo told The Jakarta Post.

A problem with the instruction is that failure to comply with it carries no punishment or sanctions for local officers, but Tjahjo said that tight monitoring would be carried out by the ministry to ensure that local leaders did their best to prevent forest fires.

“If they cannot afford preventative action […] they should make a report to the central government,” Tjahjo added.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho confirmed on Sunday that local efforts had been made in Sumatra and Kalimantan to put out the growing small fires, and had already decreased the number of hot spots from 69 in Sumatra and 24 in East Kalimantan on Saturday.

However, the number of fires in North Kalimantan increased to four on Sunday due to intensive land clearing by local farmers.

“Kutai Kartanegara and East Kutai [regencies] started to see fires 2 weeks ago. Our satellite always detects new fires there. It means that new land clearing keeps happening,” Sutopo added.

Last year’s fire crisis cost the economy Rp 221 trillion (US$16.5 billion), or around 1.9 percent of the country’s GDP, or more than double what was spent on rebuilding Aceh after the 2004 tsunami.

In addition, efforts to extinguish the fires cost the BNPB alone around Rp 734.5 billion. That amount does not include the hundreds of billions of rupiah spent by related ministries and government agencies on fire-containment efforts last year.

Fire-containment efforts in Kalimantan and Sumatra this year include the establishment of canal separators in a number places, Sutopo explained, adding that “any emergence of new fires will be automatically dealt with by local officers”.

Although it is difficult to imagine no fires at all in Kalimantan and Sumatra due to the huge area of peatlands and forests prone to fires there, this year’s fires are expected to be far less serious than last year’s because 2016 has seen a relatively wet dry season compared with 2015.

“The El Niño weather phenomenon is expected to end in April, then the onset of La Niña will be stronger which will make this year’s dry season relatively wet across Indonesia. This situation will assist fire containment efforts for the whole year,” Sutopo added.

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