January is not over yet, but two regencies in Riau province have already declared emergency alert statuses to tackle any potential forest fires, which could get out of control when the weather gets drier in upcoming months.
The decision made by Rokan Hulu regency and Dumai city to raise their alert statuses, which would allow the central government to send aid to the regions, has been lauded by government officials in Jakarta.
Indonesia has learned the hard way that failing to act as fast as possible to address forest fires would cost it dearly. In 2015, massive forest fires ravaged Sumatra and Kalimantan and caused diplomatic tensions as cities in Malaysia and Singapore, were covered by smoky haze for weeks.
With the weather in 2017 expected to be drier than in 2016, the country could not afford to risk another disaster.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has called on other fire-prone regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan to follow the initiatives of Rokan and Dumai before the dry season starts in late January and runs until the end of March, the period hot spots could quickly turn into fires if treated late.
A break from fires is expected to take place between April and May this year when rain pours down on the country, but threats of fire could recur from June to late October in haze-producing regions like Sumatra, Riau and Kalimantan, said BNPT spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.
By setting emergency standby statuses early, regions could ask for aid from the central government to tackle very small fires to prevent them from growing bigger when the dry season begins.
Sutopo said that the BNPB had improved its early warning system to detect the emergence of hot spots across the country and had asked the Regional Mitigation Agencies (BPBD) to prepare artificial rain as an anticipatory move ahead of the dry season.
“We have instructed the BPBDs to urge local administrations to declare emergency alert statuses before it is too late to do so. It is a good move that Rokan and Dumai took the initiative. We hope that other regions follow suit. Next week, there will be a meeting at the State Palace to discuss preparations to prevent forest fires,” Sutopo told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
Sutopo said that the BNPB could directly send helicopters to regions that had declared emergency alert statuses as an early anticipation to prevent forest fires.
The head of the Rokan Hulu BPBD, Aceng Herdiana, said that the status was effective from Jan. 16 to May 31. He said in the last 10 days hot spots detected in a number of districts were identified to be forest and land fires.
“That’s why the regency administration considers it necessary to declare the emergency siaga alert status,” Aceng said.
The Meteorology Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) had also been routinely reporting that the rainfall in a number of regions in Riau would be very limited until April 2017, he said.
Such indicators, he said, had to be watched, because it meant that the potential for fire in several fireprone districts was increasing.
Riau BPBD head Edwar Sanger said that he expected the Riau provincial administration would also soon declare a standby emergency status as an early measure to prevent hot spots from expanding.
“The objective is to maintain the situation. The haze-free achievement made by Riau in 2016 has to be maintained this year,” he said.
He said the emergency alert status on the provincial level would be announced on Monday during a meeting led by Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman.
Meanwhile, the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s fire mitigation director Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan said the alert status was declared when the fires were still under control and it would only be raised to “emergency” status when fires became massive.
Raffles added that the status could be raised quickly, unlike in 2015 when some regional governments were too late raising their alert statuses, resulting in late responses.