Thailand: Foreign tourists moved to safety as forest fire breaks out in Phuket’s Rawai area

Thailand: Foreign tourists moved to safety as forest fire breaks out in Phuket’s Rawai area

Sunday, 06 Feb 2022

BANGKOK, Feb 6 (The Nation Thailand/ANN): Tourists were evacuated when a forest fire broke out on Laem Krating Cape in Phuket’s Rawai subdistrict on Saturday night (Feb 5).


Smog from Cambodia brings haze to parts of Malaysia

Smog from Cambodia brings haze to parts of Malaysia

Published by: ARNOLD LOH | NATION | Friday, 28 Jan 2022

GEORGE TOWN: Smog from tens of hotspots burning in Cambodia – about 1,000km away – is blowing toward Malaysia, bringing haze to northern states.

The Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC), based in Singapore, reported that satellite cameras have detected massive fire-prone areas emitting smoke plumes in northern and eastern Cambodia as well as parts of southern Laos.

The northeast monsoon has been blowing the smoke towards Malaysia and ASMC forecasts a slight to moderate haze.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) of Malaysia website operated by the Environment Department shows that for most parts of Kelantan, Terengganu, southern Kedah and Penang have moderate API readings in the 60s to 70s.

In South Seberang Prai, Penang, the API is 92, but this is due to Penang’s landfill fire in Pulau Burung.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department also sent out a haze alert on Thursday (Jan 28), characterising the hotspots in Cambodia as forest fires.

On Jan 11, Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia reported that the nation’s forest fires are “frequently caused by human activities, such as burning brush that has been cleared on plantations, burning tree stumps in fields to make it easier to grow crops, creating grasslands for livestock or in poaching attempts as well as to harvest honey from wild bees”.

In Shah Alam and Klang in Selangor, the API reading is in the 70s to 80s.

An API reading of 0-50 is considered Good, Moderate (51-100), Unhealthy (101-200), Very Unhealthy (201-300) and Hazardous (above 300).


Indonesia’s new epicenter of forest fires shifts away from Sumatra and Borneo

Indonesia’s new epicenter of forest fires shifts away from Sumatra and Borneo

by  on 29 December 2021

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s land and forest fires burned a greater area this year than in 2020, with most of the fires occurring in West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara, two provinces that were until recently not major sites of burning.

As of the end of November, fires had burned 353,222 hectares (872,831 acres) of land, an area twice the size of London. This is up nearly 16% from the 296,942 hectares (733,759 acres) burned during the whole of 2020, according to official data from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

The largest increase in fires occurred in the provinces of West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) and East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), which until a few years ago accounted for only a fraction of total fires.

This year, fires in NTB burned 100,908 hectares (249,349 acres), nearly a third of the national total, and more than triple the area burned in the province last year. In NTT, the figure was higher, at 137,297 hectares (339,268 acres) were burned, up nearly 20% from the 2020 figure.

This makes NTB and NTT the top two provinces in terms of size of fires for two years in a row. Together, fires in the two provinces accounted for two-thirds of the total burned area in Indonesia this year; in 2020, the two provinces were home to half of the total burned area.

In 2019, which saw a particularly bad episode of fires fanned by an El Niño system bringing drier-than-usual weather conditions, the worst-hit regions were the Bornean provinces of Central Kalimantan, with 134,227 hectares (331,682 acres) burned, and West Kalimantan, at 127,462 hectares (314,965 acres).

Among the areas burned by the fires this year was part of an island within NTT’s Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to around 2,800 Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis).

Raffles B. Panjaitan, a fire expert working as an adviser to the minister of environment and forestry, said the scale of the burning in NTT and NTB was unprecedented.

“In the past two years, the fires in NTT and NTB increased to more than 100,000 hectares each,” he said at an event in Jakarta on Dec. 23. “Before that, it was less than 50,000 hectares each.”

Dry spells and scrubland

Raffles said fires in the two provinces had received less attention than those in the perennial hotspots of Sumatra and Borneo, where slash-and-burn practices have routinely stoked massive blazes whose toxic haze has drifted as far as neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

“Maybe we need to see [what’s happening in NTB and NTT] because until now, there’s no one controlling [the fires there],” he said. “There’s no firefighter brigades directly in charge.”

Bambang Hero Saharjo, a leading expert on forest fires from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), said fires in NTB and NTT are not a new phenomenon, although the scale this time around is. The burning, typically of scrubland, isn’t as intense as in Sumatra and Borneo, which have vast areas of carbon-rich peat, he added.

NTB and NTT, Indonesia’s southernmost provinces, are also the country’s driest. They experience less rainfall than the country’s western region, and often go through dry spells lasting more than 60 days. In 2017, NTT didn’t see rain for more than 100 days; the district of East Sumba in NTT suffered from 249 days without rain in 2019.

And when fires to do break out there, the hilly terrain makes it difficult for firefighters to reach burning areas, Bambang said.

“The areas burned are not productive lands, and they are hard to reach [for firefighters],” he told Mongabay. “And the [firefighting] facilities are not optimum yet. Therefore, fire mitigation efforts are not optimum yet.”

More funding needed to fight fires

With the scale of fires increasing in NTB and NTT, Bambang called for greater efforts to mitigate burning in the two provinces.

“The more land that’s burned, the higher the emissions,” he said. “Therefore, it’s only appropriate for stakeholders to pay attention to these two provinces.”

He called on local governments to boost the capacity of the firefighting brigades and to replace the easily combustible scrub with more fire-resistant crops. “Lastly, law enforcement against the perpetrators of land and forest fires needs to be intensified,” Bambang said.

He also called for increased funding from the central government for firefighting and fire prevention efforts.

Raffles said the forestry ministry’s budget for fire mitigation had been slashed in the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The budget … has been miniscule,” he said. “It’s 38 billion rupiah [$2.67 million]. In the past, it used to be 100 billion rupiah [$7 billion] and thus the coordination [for firefighting] at the local level was stronger.”

Raffles said he hoped there would be a budget increase for 2022, warning that “there’s no way [firefighting efforts] can be mobilized in the field if there’s no budget.”

Bambang agreed that fires could get worse without a budget increase to fight them.

“In my opinion, if future fire mitigation efforts are not much different from 2021, then there won’t be a significant decrease in fires, especially with a budget for fire mitigation that’s increasingly reduced because it’s used for the COVID-19 pandemic instead,” he said. “If there’s no budget, or limited budget, then it will hamper fire mitigation efforts. The implication is uncontrollable fires.”

Raffles said the ministry wanted to avoid such a scenario, given that forest fires in Indonesia tend to come under global scrutiny.


Depoliticising Southeast Asia’s forest fire pollution

Depoliticising Southeast Asia’s forest fire pollution

Authors: Jayaprakash Murulitharan, University of Cambridge and Matthew Ashfold, University of Nottingham Malaysia

The almost annual haze in southern Southeast Asia originates from both natural and anthropogenic forest fires in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Forests are cleared for small-scale and commercial agriculture, which is often linked to key economic sectors like oil palm and pulpwood.

The ‘slash and burn’ method is a cheap and quick way to prepare land for cultivation. If done on peatlands, this method involves drainage, making the area extremely fire-prone. Carbon-rich peat fires often extend underground where they are hard to control. Regional hot and dry weather patterns prolong the fires and transport smoke haze across borders.

The 2015 Southeast Asia haze was estimated to have caused between 40,000 and 100,000 deaths across the region. While the 2019 episode was less severe, the World Bank estimates that Indonesia — where most of the fires originate — suffered US$5.2 billion in agriculture, industry, trade, tourism, transportation and environmental sector losses.

ASEAN began to acknowledge haze as a regional concern in 1985 with the Agreement on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which specifically referenced air pollution and ‘transfrontier environmental effects’.

Following the 1997–98 haze event, the 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) — committing ASEAN member states to combat sources of haze — was established. Despite its legally binding status, the agreement was watered-down during the negotiation process. In the ASEAN spirit of non-confrontation, it does not contain any enforcement or dispute resolution mechanisms and it only came into full effect in 2014 with Indonesia’s ratification.

Article 17 of the AATHP stipulates that member states should ‘support scientific and technical research programmes’ related to transboundary haze pollution, but no member state has operationalised any such program beyond basic knowledge-sharing.

One way to operationalise Article 17 would be to create an ASEAN Panel of Technical and Scientific Experts that would address two sticking points in regional haze cooperation: data validity and establishing the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control.

Under the current framework, member states coordinate information and policy on transboundary haze at the ministerial-level Conference of the Parties (COP) to the AATHP, the Committee (COM) under the COP to the AATHP, and ministerial sub-regional committees supported by technical working groups.

Member states individually present their technical findings at the working group meetings before COM/COP and ministerial sub-regional committee meetings. While this often highlights member states’ different meteorological capabilities, it also results in prolonged debates over the validity of each country’s data. For example, the current country-based situation report mechanisms lead to disputes over satellite ‘hotspot’ (thermal anomaly possibly indicating fire) validity and ground-truthing.

The proposed panel could draw inspiration from the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances, in which assessment panels provide technical information to the parties involved. Their reports reflect up-to-date scientific findings and include consensus statements on the quality and consistency of data sources. The panel could evaluate on-the-ground and satellite-based information on fires, land use, regional transport and the distribution of haze pollution.

Scientists from all member states should be represented in the ASEAN panel. The Montreal Protocol and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that experts can contribute to a scientific consensus independent of their home country’s views.

The panel would report its consensus at working group, COP and ministerial sub-regional committee meetings. While previous diplomatic flashpoints were a consequence of centralising regional meteorological capabilities with one member state, a consensus approach would alleviate such concerns. The panel’s report could replace individual technical findings, which could help to focus discussions on prevention, mitigation and adaptation.

This approach would address member states’ different meteorological capabilities while enhancing evidence-based support for a joint emergency response. It may also push member states to make more data available, move forward on a region-wide common air-quality indicator and encourage more collaboration within the ASEAN scientific community toward addressing remaining ‘unknowns’ on haze.

Article 5 of the AATHP calls for the establishment of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control to facilitate cooperation on haze pollution arising from land and forest fires. But drawn-out negotiations have delayed its establishment.

The interim functions of such a centre are shared by the ASEAN Secretariat Environment Division and the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC). A dedicated coordinating centre with an independent secretariat could better guide the COP and MSC meetings, support projects in member states to combat forest fires, open burning and peatland management, and coordinate a joint emergency response.

But uncertainty about the role of the ASMC data moving forward remains an issue. The Regional Haze Action Plan 1997 designated the ASMC as the regional centre to monitor and assess land and forest fires and provide early warnings on haze. But the lack of consensus over member states’ meteorological datasets has led to disputes over the validity of ASMC data. To prevent this from delaying the operationalisation of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre, the proposed panel could temporarily take on the ASMC’s regional haze monitoring and assessment role.

The 2016 ASEAN roadmap on transboundary haze presented a vision of a haze-free ASEAN by 2020. While there was localised haze in 2020, wetter La Niña conditions and depressed economic activity prevented a serious transboundary event. But limited advancements on the ground and at the ASEAN level cast doubt on whether the roadmap has achieved its goal.

Mechanisms already exist through which ASEAN can depoliticise science and achieve more effective haze mitigation. Supporting scientific and technical research programmes and establishing an ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control will help allay some of the diplomatic concerns among ASEAN member states and encourage them to better manage their region’s haze problem.

Jayaprakash Murulitharan is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge.

Matthew Ashfold is Head of the School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Nottingham Malaysia.


Indonesian President Joko warns of forest fires as hot spots detected

JAKARTA (REUTERS) – Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Monday (Feb 22) that the local authorities should get prepared for potential forest fires later this year as hot spots have been detected on the island of Sumatra.


Haze to Blanket Northern Thailand as Fire Hotspots Rise

Published : By


The concentration of airborne ultra-fine PM2.5 dust particles in several northern provinces soared beyond safe limits on Wednesday. The concentration comes as hundreds of active fire hotspots have been detected in the region.


Mae Hong Son’s Phak Wan Pa hit by wildfires

By: National| January 14th, 2021


Mae Hong Son Governor Sithichai Jindaluang, accompanied by the Pai district village headman and local government officials, inspected the district on Wednesday after a series of wildfires there after 155 heat points were detected and the River Fire Control Station was called in to tackle several blazes.


Forest fire near highway in Phitsanulok

By: CHINNAWAT SINGHA | January 10th, 2021


PHITSANULOK: Local firefighters are combating a forest fire that broke out on Saturday, razing an area of about 500 rai in this central northern province.


Commentary: Little smoke this haze season – but fires rage on in Indonesia

Kiki Taufik is Global Head of Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s forest campaign | November 15th, 2020


Much of the destruction to Indonesia’s forests and peatlands have taken place behind the veil of COVID-19 restrictions, says Greenpeace’s Kiki Taufik.


The Burning Issue: Fighting Forest Fires With Technology

BY :TIUR RUMONDANG | OCTOBER 09, 2020   Many living in Southeast Asia – and even…