The Jakarta Post
While a substantial part of Indonesia is still in the wet season, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has recorded that a total of 69 hot spots have been detected in numerous areas in the country on Saturday ' a telltale sign of a possible haze crisis.
Of the 69 hot spots, the Terra and Aqua satellites detected 14 in Riau, six in North Sumatra, three in South Aceh, 38 in East Kalimantan, one in North Kalimantan, two in Papua and four in South Sulawesi.
Although work has been carried out to contain some of the 69 hot spots, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho warned that forest and land fires 'will continue as they are related to people's habits and their way of living [through slash-and-burn practices for clearing land], poor law enforcement measures, local politics and other social issues'.
Last year, fires spread across a total of 2.61 million hectares of forest and peatland, resulting in choking haze blanketing numerous areas for about five months, including also some parts of neighboring countries. The haze left at least 21 people dead and caused respiratory problems for more than half a million people.
The fires also cost the economy Rp 221 trillion (US$16.5 billion), or around 1.9 percent of the country's GDP, according to the BNPB. While the World Bank has estimated that Indonesia's economy lost $16 billion due to the fires, more than double what was spent on rebuilding Aceh after the 2004 tsunami.
Efforts to extinguish the fires cost the BNPB alone around Rp 734.5 billion.
A number of efforts to anticipate potential fires this year have been taken following President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo's instructions, including the formation of a special body tasked with restoring the peatland ecosystem.
Many have called on the government to step up its efforts to stop illegal logging, as well as changing the routine use of slash-and-burn, if the country is serious about ending forest and peatland fires.
'We can't stop the [slash-and-burn] method simply by imposing a ban since the reason behind it is economic. We have to find a practical solution,' he said.
The government will continue efforts to anticipate forest fires despite predictions that this year's dry season will not be as dry as last year, as the El NiÃ±o weather phenomenon is expected to end in April, while the onset of La Nina is thought to be able to mitigate the effects of the dry season.
'The rainy season is expected to come earlier and bring a higher intensity of rain. Such conditions will help us in dealing with forest and land fires,' Sutopo said.
The number of hot spots in Sumatra, where most of the hot spots have been reported, has fluctuated in the past couple of days.
The Pekanbaru office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) confirmed that satellites found 23 hot spots in three provinces in Sumatra, Aceh, Riau and North Sumatra, on Saturday morning, with Riau having the most hot spots with 14.
Around 13 hotspots found in Riau's Bengkalis regency indicated forest and land fires, said BMKG Pekanbaru head Sugarin.
Antara news wire also reported that about 163 villages out of a total of 1,800 villages and subdistricts were vulnerable to forest fires this year.
On Friday, the Terra and Aqua satellites detected 47 hot spots across Sumatra, up from 45 on Thursday afternoon, despite a downpour over the past few days.
Citing past patterns, the BNPB predicted that hot spots in Sumatra might occur mostly between June and October and in Kalimantan from July to October. As for Riau, potential fires might occur between February and April due to dry weather there.
BMKG Pekanbaru would intensify coordination with the local disaster mitigation office to anticipate any potential fires, said Sugarin.
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