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.


Greece wildfires: At least 20 killed, dozens injured

Greece wildfires: At least 20 killed, dozens injured

Last update 10:42 | 24/07/2018

Forest fires raging across Greece have killed at least 20 people, the government says, as the authorities there seek international assistance.

Hundreds of firefighters are battling the blazes and people have left their homes near the capital, Athens.

A search and rescue operation is underway for 10 tourists who fled one of the fires in a boat, officials say.

“We will do whatever is humanly possible to control it,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told reporters.

He cut short an official trip to Bosnia in order to help coordinate the response to the situation, which firefighters have described as “extremely difficult”.

Early on Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos confirmed that the death toll had risen to 20.

Most of the victims had been trapped in the seaside resort of Mati, 40km (25 miles) north-east of Athens, and died either in their homes or their cars.

More than 104 are injured, 11 seriously, he added, with 16 children among the casualties.

Miltiadis Vyronas, from the country’s Ekav emergency service, said that 25 people had been taken to the hospital and four were seriously injured.

Dramatic video posted on social media showed damaged buildings, orange smoke-filled skies, and people fleeing the fires by car.

Residents in the worst-affected areas were forced into the sea to escape the flames.

“Thankfully the sea was there and we went into the sea because the flames were chasing us all the way to the water. It burned our backs and we dived into the water… I said my God, we must run to save ourselves,” Kostas Laganos in the coastal resort of Mati said.

Prime Minister Tsipras said that “all emergency forces have been mobilized” and declared a state of emergency in the Attica region around Athens.

The government has asked other European countries for helicopters and additional firefighters to help tackle the fires.

Earlier on Monday, residents of a coastal region near Athens were told to abandon their homes as the uncontrolled fires spread. Hundreds of children were also evacuated from holiday camps.

The extreme weather comes as dozens of wildfires continue to rage in Sweden.

Countries including Italy, Germany, Poland, and France have all sent help in the form of additional planes, vehicles, and firefighters.

But with temperatures set to soar again, they are in a race against time to get the fires under control.


Forest fires in Nghe An and Ha Nam due to hot weather

Forest fires in Nghe An and Ha Nam due to hot weather

Last update 14:24 | 03/07/2018

VietNamNet Bridge – Recent hot weather caused fires in Son Tien Commune, in the central province of Ha Tinh, which then spread to the neighboring province of Nghe An, leaving damage in Khanh Son Commune.

It took firefighters 14 hours to stamp out the blaze in the pine forest in Khanh Son Commune.

The fire, which was reported to have started around midday on Sunday, was under control by 2 am on Monday. High temperatures and strong winds were said to have caused difficulties in extinguishing the fire.

Three other forest fires were reported on the same day in other hamlets in the commune.

Last month, fires reportedly destroyed about 100 hectares of forest in the central province.

In the northern province of Ha Nam, more than 300 people, police and firefighters worked to extinguish a forest fire in Thanh Luu Commune, Thanh Liem District.

The fire destroyed about 4.3 hectares of pine, acacia and eucalyptus trees.

A strong heat wave has hit northern and central provinces, pushing average temperatures to over 35 degrees Celsius.

Some areas have reported temperatures as high as 39 degrees Celsius, including 39.4 degrees Celsius in Chi Ne (northern province of Hoa Binh) and Vinh Yen City (Vinh Phuc Province), 39.1 degrees in Lang (Hanoi), 39.5 degrees in Hung Yen, 39.6 degrees in Nho Quan (Ninh Binh Province) and 40.4 degrees in Tinh Gia (Thanh Hoa).

The heat wave that started at the weekend is expected to last until Friday. Some regions will experience average temperatures of above 35 degrees for between 12-16 hours a day.

Experts warn that the heat wave could be dangerous if it lasts for seven consecutive days, leading to negative impacts on human health, especially the elderly and children. Heavy rains are predicted following the high temperatures. Health experts warn that such conditions are ideal for the spread of dengue fever.


Fighting fires on Indonesia’s peatlands

Fighting fires on Indonesia’s peatlands

22 May 2018

The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 the International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. As one of the world’s most valuable ecosystems, peatlands support diverse species, including orangutans. Yet until recently, peatlands were drained and set ablaze for agriculture, producing an ecological catastrophe that sparked the need for change.

It’s now been three years since massive fires ravaged Indonesia in one of the worst environmental disasters of our century.

The blazes in 2015 scorched 2.6 million hectares across the archipelago, and produced toxic haze that blanketed neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia. Thousands fell ill, and the Indonesian government suffered $16 billion in economic losses – more than double the sum spent on rebuilding Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, according to the World Bank.

What ignited this catastrophe? More importantly, what is being done to prevent it from reoccurring?

Community champions

Beads of sweat trickled down Udeng’s face as he hauled a heavy hose across the field during a practice drill with his fellow firefighters.

The 45-year-old father of four is from Tumbang Nusa, a village located in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan Province on Borneo that was an epicenter of the 2015 disaster.

“The fires were very bad,” he said. “I’m here to do my part to make sure they don’t happen again.” At the time, Udeng’s kids fell ill with asthma and his wife evacuated them to a neighboring village for almost a month because their home became inhospitable.

Spurred to action, Udeng joined Indonesia’s network of district-level volunteer firefighting brigades, known as “Masyarakat Peduli Api (MPA)”, which are formed by local village heads. Although Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry established a Forest Fire Brigade at the national level called the “Manggala Agni (MA)”, its capacity is frequently overextended given its vast mandate. This makes the volunteers invaluable. Yet many of them lack proper training and equipment given the informal nature of their units.

To remedy this, in May, intensive training was conducted for 66 volunteer firefighters from six of Central Kalimantan’s most fire-prone villages under the UN Environment project “Generating Anticipatory Measures for Better Utilization of Tropical Peatlands (GAMBUT)”, which is funded by USAID and operated by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

The training was facilitated by highly experienced South African firefighters from the Working on Fire Program who first came to Indonesia in 2015 to assist with the disaster, and have since been collaborating with the UN Environment project as a key partner to increase knowledge exchange and sharing between the two Southern Hemisphere countries.

“Teaching the technical skills is the easy part,” said Trevor Wilson, Executive Director of Working on Fire. “The biggest challenge is changing the way local people think about fire, so the course stresses 80 per cent fire prevention and only 20 per cent fire suppression, because the best fires are the ones that never happen.”

Peat as tinderboxes

For decades, Indonesia’s smallholder farmers have been using fire to clear land for crops to produce commodities like palm oil, of which Indonesia is now the world’s biggest producer. But intentional fires often spiral out of control, particularly during the annual dry season.

Particularly problematic is when these fires ignite on peatland. Peat is comprised of 90 per cent water and 10 per cent organic matter (decaying plants underwater). Peat fires can thus smolder underground for weeks. They are nearly impossible to put out without heavy rains.

“Peatlands need to remain underwater. If you drain them, you are left with a pile of organic materials like leaves and branches, which are extremely flammable,” said Johan Kieft, Lead Technical Advisor for the UN-REDD Programme in Indonesia, an initiative by UN Environment, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to support developing countries in their efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Of the 2.6 million hectares that burned between June-October 2015, 33 per cent occurred on peatlands. When the wildfires broke out, they were exacerbated by an El Niño year that caused an unusually severe dry spell. In normal circumstances, the wildfires would have abated after a few weeks, but in 2015, they raged for months.

Peat and climate change

After the 2015 crisis put a global spotlight on peatlands, Indonesia responded by banning the use of fire in clearing peatlands, establishing a national Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG), as well as pledging to restore 2 million hectares of peatlands by 2020.

The UN-REDD Programme is working closely with Indonesia to raise awareness about peatlands, given that the country is home to half of the world’s tropical peatlands.

Peat is one of nature’s most effective ways of taking carbon out of the atmosphere and stocking it underground, making it crucial to the fight against climate change. On the flip side, when drained and set ablaze, they can release 10 times more carbon than forest fires.

“By preserving peat, we preserve precious carbon because peat is the largest terrestrial carbon stock in the world,” said Kieft.

For more information contact Leona Liu +66 22882186


UK satellites to help monitor ASEAN forest fires

UK satellites to help monitor ASEAN forest fires

This project will use satellite data and mapping to monitor peat conditions in Indonesia and Malaysia.


The UK Space Agency will use satellite imagery and earth observation data to help countries in Asia tackle forest fires, dengue, and illegal fishing, it was announced.

Through its International Partnership Programme, the agency works with governments all over the world to improve disaster response or infectious disease management, for example.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, the agency will use satellites to map dry peat conditions, as forest fires often occur over drained peatland areas. With data on water levels in the peatlands, authorities can make decisions to mitigate the risk of fires.

Another project under the partnership will monitor dengue outbreaks in Vietnam. It will be possible to predict the likelihood of future dengue epidemics by linking earth observation data with climate forecasting and land surface data. The project will also be able to provide dengue forecasts under various climate change scenarios.

A third project will use satellite data to understand the location, time and behavior of specific vessels at sea in the Philippines, in an effort to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

The agency has set aside a total of £11 million (US$15.3 million) for these three projects in particular. It will be funding ten projects altogether, totaling £38 million (US$ 52.9 million). They include an initiative in Colombia to monitor illegal gold mining; a project to help herders in Mongolia to build resilience against extreme weather; and an effort to monitor dam failures in Peru.

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Plan to protect Indonesian peatlands with aerial mapping wins US$1m prize

JAKARTA: A plan to use satellite imagery and aerial mapping to protect Indonesia’s peatlands – a vast carbon sink and source of much of the country’s greenhouse emissions – was awarded a US$1 million prize on Friday (Feb 2).

The cutting-edge technology will be used by authorities to clamp down on illegal clearance of the land for plantations, helping to prevent a repeat of annual forest fires that plague the region while also reducing the country’s carbon footprint.

The government, with the support of international partners, came up with the idea of a competition two years ago to help achieve its commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change.