Four killed in Indonesia forest fires, police arrest suspects

Four killed in Indonesia forest fires, police arrest suspects

PONTIANAK, Indonesia (AP) – Police in the Indonesian part of Borneo island have arrested more than a dozen people suspected of starting forest fires that have killed four people in the past month.

West Kalimantan police chief Didi Haryono said yesterday that two of the 27 people wanted by police died in blazes they started to clear land for planting. He said 14 people have been arrested so far.

They could be prosecuted under an environmental protection law that allows a maximum 10-year prison sentence for setting fires to clear land.

The national disaster agency says four people have died in West Kalimantan’s forest fires in the past month, including two suspects.

Millions of hectares burned in Indonesia during annual dry season fires in 2015 that spread a health-damaging haze across the region for weeks.

The disaster, estimated by the World Bank to have caused losses of USD16 billion, was exacerbated by the practice of draining swampy peatland forests for industrial plantations, making them highly combustible. Indonesia’s government imposed a moratorium on peatland development in 2016 but has made little progress with plans to restore such wetlands to their original condition.

Officials said the recent haze in West Kalimantan has diminished due to fire-fighting efforts.

Sahat Irawan Manik, an official with a local fire unit, said on Monday that conditions had especially improved in the provincial capital, Pontianak, and around the airport.

“There are still some fires in five districts but there are water bombing teams by the Disaster Mitigation Agency, which has deployed 10 helicopters to help extinguish the fires,” Manik said.

About 1,000 hectares of fires have been extinguished across the province, he said.

Raffles B. Panjaitan, director of investigation and forest protection at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, said the number of “hotspots” in West Kalimantan had dropped to 21 on Monday from 60 on Sunday.

Panjaitan said that so far this year, 71,959 hectares of land have burned in forest fires compared with 165,464 hectares from January to July last year.

Link: https://borneobulletin.com.bn/four-killed-in-indonesia-forest-fires-police-arrest-suspects/

Concerns Rising in ASEAN Over Borneo Fires, Haze

Concerns Rising in ASEAN Over Borneo Fires, Haze

Max Walden

As ambient air pollution chokes Jakarta amid hosting the Asian Games, many in Malaysia are accusing Indonesia of being responsible for heightened levels of haze, which they say is because of fires in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo island.

A smoky haze from fires, exacerbated by hot, dry conditions as well as the result of the deliberate burning of land for agriculture, threatens to spark another diplomatic conflict between Indonesia and its neighbors. A similar rift occurred in 2015 when smoke spread from Kalimantan and Sumatra to blanket Singapore and large parts of Malaysia.

“I continue to invite all parties to care for forests and land. Stop hurting nature by burning,” Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Indonesia’s minister of Environment and Forestry, tweeted Wednesday. “We don’t have plan B, because there is NO planet B.”

Southeast Asia has experienced annual haze during the dry season since at least 2005, in part because of agricultural producers using burning as a cheap and effective way to clear land.

About 60 to 70 percent of fires in 2015 occurred in degraded peatlands, where burning releases an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, producing a particularly noxious form of smog.

Severe respiratory problems

In a paper published in the journal Respirology last month, Malaysian researchers found that hospitalizations for breathing problems increased significantly during periods of haze. Severe respiratory problems accounted for 4 percent of admissions to intensive care units during times of haze, compared to 2 percent generally.

Malaysian social media has been abuzz with accusations that Indonesia is responsible for increased levels of smog in recent weeks.

According to Global Forest Watch, there were more than 17,000 fire alerts across Kalimantan in the past week, the greatest number of which were in West Kalimantan. Its capital, Pontianak, sits more than 900 kilometers (571 miles) east of Kuala Lumpur and is closer in proximity to many Malaysian cities than it is to Jakarta.

Experts say it is unclear, however, whether heightened levels of air pollution in Malaysia are being caused by Indonesian forest fires.

“If there are large fires and the wind is heading that way, there’s a possibility. But to be certain, you’d need analysis of data,” said Dr. Raden Driejana, an air quality expert from the Bandung Institute of Technology. “It’s dry season [in Indonesia], and also in Malaysia, so there could be fires there, too.”

“The fires are getting worse in Kalimantan, but they are still far from those in 1982 and 1997,” Arief Wijaya, climate and forests senior manager at the World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia, told VOA.

The World Health Organization said that exposure to ambient air pollution can cause an array of deadly conditions, such as heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, and respiratory infections, in children. More than a half-million Indonesians were estimated to suffer ill health effects from the 2015 blazes.

A study published by scientists from Harvard and Columbia universities in 2016 showed that severe haze in 2015 may have caused more than 100,000 premature deaths in Southeast Asia, a claim downplayed by the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Driejana, the air quality expert, said the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has done “quite a lot” since 2015 to address the problem and has had success in reducing the severity of fires, identifying the sources of haze, enforcing newly introduced laws, and providing “a lot of education for the community” regarding the risks of fires.

Steps taken

Indonesia arrested several corporate executives in relation to the 2015 haze, and Jokowi later established the Peatland Restoration Agency under a presidential decree in January 2016 and has focused on fire prevention, mitigation, and enforcement.

But WRI’s Wijaya said, “Fires are only a symptom of weak or failed land use governance.” While big palm oil or paper plantation companies have largely stopped using burning methods for land clearing, “smallholders may have a big role in setting up fires,” he said.

“You can still see things, but when you go out of the house, you need to wear a mask,” Ratri Kusumohartono, a campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia, told VOA of the current air quality conditions in Pontianak.

After a week in the city of about 235,000 people, Kusumohartono told VOA in a telephone interview that she had been hospitalized for two days and said doctors had reported increasing numbers of casualty admissions for respiratory conditions.

In the past week, local media reported that at least four farmers who were tending their fields were killed when they became trapped in blazes.

“I have also talked with some other NGOs here the past few days and they’re also quite worried that the government is not taking this more seriously, in terms of getting fires out and keeping people safe, because at this point some fires are already a few meters away from people’s housing,” Kusumohartono said. “It’s really time for the government to step up their efforts to manage this.”

Link: https://www.voanews.com/a/concerns-rising-in-ASEAN-over-Borneo-fires-haze/4542338.html

Schools close as haze worsens in Pontianak in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan

Schools close as haze worsens in Pontianak in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan

PUBLISHED AUG 21, 2018, 1:21 PM SGT

PONTIANAK, INDONESIA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Authorities in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, have ordered temporary school closures, as thick haze from forest fires has worsened in the city.

Pontianak Mayor Sutarmidji announced the school closures on Sunday (Aug 19) via his Facebook account.

“I have instructed PAUD (early childhood education centers), kindergarten and elementary schools to close and resume operations on Aug 27. As for junior high schools, students can go back to school on Friday,” he wrote.

The closure applies to all schools that are under regional government supervision.

Meanwhile, the West Kalimantan Education and Culture Agency has issued a circular that calls on senior high schools to close from Monday to Thursday in Pontianak and Kubu Raya regency, which are affected by the haze.

The agency stated that the closures might be extended depending on the haze.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said hotspots detected in West Kalimantan had decreased to 526 by 8.22am local time on Monday. On the morning of Aug 16, the BNPB had recorded 1,061 hotspots across the province.

Six helicopters have been deployed to combat the forest fires in the province, which resulted from employing slash-and-burn practices to clear agricultural land.

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/schools-close-as-haze-worsens-in-pontianak-in-indonesias-west-kalimantan

Thinning forests resulting in fuelwood shortage

Thinning forests resulting in fuelwood shortage

Water-bombing intensifies in Kuala Baram, raging forest fire worsens haze

Water-bombing intensifies in Kuala Baram, raging forest fire worsens haze

By Stephen Then

NATION | Sunday, 19 Aug 2018 | 

 

MIRI: The Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department in Miri has intensified aerial water-bombing operations to contain a raging forest fire in Kuala Baram district.

The fire has also worsened the haze, recording an Air Pollutant Index (API) level at 113 on Sunday (Aug 19) morning. A reading of 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 moderate and 101-200 unhealthy.

Miri Fire chief Supt Law Poh Kiong said the Bomba air unit will be dropping more water to control the flames from spreading.

“Yesterday, we carried out 70 rounds of aerial water-bombings.

“This morning, we did more rounds,” he said.

Fire-fighters are also on the ground battling the flames on peat soils.

The wildfire in Kuala Baram is one of the dozens that are burning throughout the state.

Authorities are also worried about the haze and smog coming from West Kalimantan.

There are already more than 120 huge fires raging in the area.

Those fires measuring one sq km in size are called hotspots as they can be detected by satellites even 100km above earth.

Source Link: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/08/19/water-bombing-intensifies-in-kuala-baram-raging-forest-fire-worsens-haze/#5asqd2vHrkYcdtfF.99

 

Shoot-on-sight order issued as Riau fights fires

Shoot-on-sight order issued as Riau fights fires

PUBLISHED AUG 18, 2018, 5:00 AM SGT

Fewer hot spots now, but locals still favor the slash-and-burn method of clearing land

The number of hot spots in the Indonesian province of Riau went down to 27 yesterday from 121 a day earlier with the authorities stepping up measures to fight forest and peatland fires, including a shoot-on-sight order issued by the military against firestarters.

Mr. Jim Gafur, head of emergency response at the Riau disaster management agency (BPBD), told The Straits Times yesterday that fire-fighting teams had succeeded in dousing and containing the fires.

He said the worst-affected areas were north of Pekanbaru, the provincial capital, Bengkalis, Dumai, and Rokan Hilir.

“The scale of the fires has declined significantly today compared with the previous two days. We are doing massive operations,” Mr Jim told The Straits Times by telephone. “Fires had spread because the wind speed surged… We quickly responded to this change of weather.”

Winds, which have become stronger in Sumatra as a result of tropical storm Bebinca in the South China Sea, have moved north-east.

At this time of the year, they usually blow north until November or December before turning south-west, Mr. Jim said.

“Prevailing winds over the northern part of the ASEAN region are forecast to continue blowing from the south-west or west (towards north-east and east), and may strengthen briefly over the next few days under the influence of the (Bebinca) storm,” the Meteorological Service Singapore posted on its website yesterday afternoon.

It added that it was continuing to observe smoke haze from hot spots in Riau and Kalimantan.

Mr. Jim ruled out any possibility of haze moving south towards Palembang, which is co-hosting the 18th Asian Games. No hot spots have been detected in Palembang or South Sumatra so far.

“We are intensifying water bombings. We have been deploying five helicopters, two of which are bigger ones that are able to carry 5,000 liters on each trip. Ground firefighting efforts have also been intensified,” Mr. Jim said.

Commander of the Riau Land and Forest Fire Task Force Sonny Aprianto issued a shoot-on-sight order across Riau on Thursday against those caught red-handed clearing land by burning, state news agency Antara reported.

“Ninety-nine percent of the land and forest fires in Riau province are related to the intentional acts of irresponsible people,” Antara news agency quoted Brigadier-General Sonny as saying.

He also said that the authorities have not had much success in convincing people not to clear land by burning, acknowledging instead that the slash-and-burn method has become more widespread.

Several arsonists have been nabbed, he said, with at least three cases in Dumai city now ready for trial.

Satellites identified 121 hot spots in the province on Thursday morning – a big jump from the 22 detected on Wednesday afternoon, said the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

The military on Thursday also began deploying troops to fire-prone areas in the province, reported Riauterkini.com news portal.

President Joko Widodo and other senior leaders have ordered intensified efforts to combat the land fires to ensure that the Asian Games, which opens today, will not be disrupted.

The city of Palembang, in South Sumatra province, is co-hosting the quadrennial games with the capital Jakarta till Sept 2.

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/shoot-on-sight-order-issued-as-riau-fights-fires

554 acres burnt in 178 Sarawak wildfires

554 acres burnt in 178 Sarawak wildfires

By Stephen Then

NATION | Friday, 17 Aug 2018 | 

MIRI: Some 554 acres (224ha) of forests throughout Sarawak have been burnt in 178 different wildfires since Aug 2.

The latest statistics from the Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) showed that in the past 24 hours, firefighting teams statewide had been tackling 15 such wildfires.

The wildfires are in Miri, Kuching, Sri Aman, Sibu, Mukah, Song and Bintulu districts.

According to the Bomba Sarawak operation center, there was a huge wildfire raging in Sri Aman over an area of some 100 acres (one acre is about the size of one football field).

Source Link: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/08/17/554-acres-burnt-in-178-sarawak-wildfires/#kBHkIX85ZyfhU7uM.99

 

 

 

Parts of Malaysia hit by unhealthy levels of haze

Parts of Malaysia hit by unhealthy levels of haze

PUBLISHED AUG 17, 2018, 5:00 AM SGT

KUALA LUMPUR • The haze returned to parts of Malaysia yesterday, affecting the west coast states of Perlis, Kedah, and Penang on the peninsula, and Sarawak in East Malaysia.

The risk of it reaching Singapore is currently low, as the winds are blowing the haze away from it, but “should the direction of the winds change and blow the haze towards Singapore, we may occasionally experience slightly hazy conditions”, said a spokesman for the National Environment Agency.

Air quality was at unhealthy levels in Peninsular Malaysia, with the highest air pollutant index (API) reading recorded in Alor Setar, Kedah, at 157. Other badly affected areas were Sungei Petani in Kedah, Kangar in Perlis, and Seberang Jaya and Seberang Perai in Penang.

A reading of zero to 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 moderate and 101 to 200 unhealthy. Conditions in the capital Kuala Lumpur remained at moderate levels, with the API at between 65 and 67.

Meanwhile, the haze in Sarawak has been blamed on open burning in the state and the rising number of hot spots in neighboring Kalimantan, Indonesia. State Natural Resources and Environment Board controller Peter Sawal said 121 hot spots were detected across the Sarawak border with Indonesia on Tuesday, more than double from the day before. Seven hot spots were also detected in Sarawak.

As at 2 pm on Wednesday, nine areas in the state recorded moderate API readings, with Mukah recording the highest reading at 84. The other affected areas were Sibu, Bintulu, Samalaju, Kuching, Kapit, Samarahan, Sarikei and Sri Aman.

Mr. Sawal said the hazy conditions could last until the end of the month if there are no changes in the prevailing dry weather and wind direction.

Malaysia’s Minister of Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Yeo Bee Yin said she has asked the Department of Environment (DOE) to improve enforcement to put an end to open burning in the country.

“Only two or three weeks ago, I realized that the DOE doesn’t even have cars to conduct enforcement,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “I am shifting resources from the ministry to DOE to perform their jobs,” she added.

Ms. Yeo said she has also asked for help from local councils and other agencies to investigate cases of open burning – traditionally used by farmers to clear land.

The minister said the current penalty for open burning – a fine of up to RM500,000 (S$167,980), imprisonment for up to five years, or both – was “high enough”.

Asked if she would seek a meeting with the Indonesian authorities, Ms. Yeo said: “I am trying to pay them a visit.”

In a speech to Parliament, Indonesian President Joko Widodo noted that the total area of forest burnt has come down.

“The total area of forest and plantation that caught fire has significantly declined compared to the previous years. Such a firm stance would not yield maximum results without public participation.

“My gratitude and respect to the armed forces, police, local governments and residents that gave high dedication in preventing and fighting the threats of the forest fire,” he said.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/parts-of-malaysia-hit-by-unhealthy-levels-of-haze

Hotspots and open burning bring back haze in Sarawak

Hotspots and open burning bring back haze in Sarawak

PUBLISHED AUG 16, 2018, 10:13 AM SGT

KUCHING (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The haze has returned to parts of Sarawak due to the rising number of hotspots in Kalimantan and open burning in the Malaysian state.

State Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) controller Peter Sawal said 121 hotspots were detected across the border with Indonesia on Tuesday (Aug 14), more than double from the day before.

Seven hotspots were also detected in Sarawak – two in Kuching, three in Mukah and one each in Sarikei and Sri Aman.

As at 2 pm on Wednesday, nine areas in the state recorded moderate air pollutant index (API) readings, with the town of Mukah having the highest at 84.

This was followed by Sibu (75), Bintulu (71), Samalaju (61), Kuching (58), Kapit (56), Samarahan (53), Sarikei (53) and Sri Aman (51).

A reading of 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 moderate and 101-200 unhealthy.

“From the briefing by the Meteorological Department, we’re expecting this month to be dry with below normal rainfall.

“But things may change; we may experience intermittent rain, and that will dampen the weather. However, we also monitor the situation because of the high number of hotspots detected across the border and the winds blowing towards us,” he said.

Mr. Sawal said a few incidents of local burning by farmers had been detected in Sibu, Mukah, Sri Aman and Betong.

“Our men on the ground are now advising local farmers to be vigilant in controlling and monitoring their burning to prevent it from spreading,” he said.

He also said the NREB had stopped issuing permits for open burning to plantation companies since July and would take action against any illegal burning activities.

Offenders could be fined RM30,000 (S$10,000) or prosecuted in court.

However, Mr. Sawal said better awareness and enforcement has resulted in a reduced number of illegal burning cases.

“For the past few years, our records show that incidents of illegal burning had reduced. I think they are aware of the seriousness of illegal open burning.

“At the same time, our concerted efforts mean they cannot escape. We can detect (open burning) through satellite and pinpoint the location,” he said. “Then, we proceed to the ground to verify it.”

In Miri, firemen were battling several wildfires in the towns of Mukah, Bintulu, and Bintangor.

Wildfires over about 4ha of land have been burning since Tuesday evening in Kampung Assykirin in Bintulu.

In Mukah, peat fires in Daro are being tackled, while in Bintangor, wildfires have been contained at 24.3ha of the Felcra Bunut plantations.

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/hotspots-and-open-burning-bring-back-haze-in-sarawak

Indonesia steps up forest, land fire prevention to ensure haze-free Asian Games

Indonesia steps up forest, land fire prevention to ensure haze-free Asian Games

PUBLISHED AUG 15, 2018, 11:25 AM SGT

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The government is determined to carry out all necessary measures to prevent forest and land fires from spreading on the island of Sumatra, as the Asian Games are set to kick off on Saturday (Aug 18) in Jakarta and Palembang, South Sumatra, at the peak of the dry season.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto held a meeting on Tuesday (Aug 14) with relevant officials, discussing anticipatory measures to address the potential increase in hot spots.

“Learning from our experience… and with solid coordination (among stakeholders) as well as proper procedures in both prevention and mitigation, all regions are prepared to mitigate potential forest fires,” General Wiranto said on Tuesday.

“We need to work hard to ensure that South Sumatra will be haze-free. Weather forecasts say that the peak of the dry season will happen during the Asian Games,” he added.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) detected 169 hot spots in Sumatra Island on Tuesday, with 47 hot spots in South Sumatra alone. Riau recorded an increase in hot spots to 90 from 65 on the previous day, while there were 11 hot spots in Jambi and 55 hot spots in Bangka Belitung province.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s director-general of climate change Ruandha Agung Sugadirman said a coordinated team, including police and Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel, routinely carried out patrols in areas prone to forest fires.

Sixteen helicopters have been on standby across South Sumatra and can be deployed for water bombing at any time when forest fires are detected. Another 10 helicopters are also on standby in Riau, director-general Ruandha said.

The government has also used 51 tonnes of salt to intensify cloud-seeding operations to help stimulate rainfall since May, he said, adding that rain had fallen in the province from Monday evening to Tuesday morning.

“As long as the land and peatlands are wet, fires will not occur,” he added.

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/indonesia-promises-haze-free-asian-games-stepping-up-on-forest-and-land-fires