The Jakarta Post
The government is stepping up its preparation of emergency measures to battle possible forest fires, as another peak in the dry season is forecast for August due to an irregular weather pattern.
Deputy Environment Minister for Environmental Damage Control and Climate Change Arif Yuwono said on Wednesday that the government had prepared emergency systems should blazes break out this month, after smoke from forest fires blanketed Singapore and Malaysia during the first peak period of the dry season in June.
Arif said that a weather pattern similar to the one that caused record levels of smoke to be blown into Singapore and Malaysia was predicted to occur again this month.
He added that in response, the government had prepared taskforces and emergency systems in fire-prone regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan. The government had also prepared measures for water bombing and creating artificial rain.
'The taskforces and the countermeasures are ready. Moreover, we predict that the number of potential hot spots would not be as great as in the June fires,' he said. 'Should any forest fire occur in August, the magnitude wouldn't be as terrible. We are more prepared now.'
He added the second peak in this year's dry season would have a shorter duration, as the wet season had been forecast to begin in September.
Though the emergency system had improved, Arif said public awareness and readiness were still lacking.
Much of Sumatra is covered with carbon-rich peatland, the burning of which to make way for oil palm plantations was a major cause of the fires last June. Therefore, developing sustainable cultivation and agricultural practices, was as important as preparing the emergency system, Arif said.
'The spatial planning [in Sumatra] is poor, as well as the public's understanding about changing weather dynamics,' Arif said. 'We need to continue to learn about and adapt to it.'
Meanwhile, the Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said that the government was speeding up its effort to ratify the ASEAN agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP), which would allow it to take emergency action and punitive measures against companies using slash-and-burn methods.
The ratification would provide Indonesia access to human resources and equipment, as well as technology used by ASEAN member states to handle haze pollution and forest fires, including that used for monitoring, evaluating and executing an emergency response.
'The treaty allows for cooperation to deal with the fires. As for the prevention of the forest fires, that's still up to us. We have to anticipate it before it happens,' Balthasar told reporters at his office on Wednesday.
Indonesia has been pressured by its neighbors to immediately ratify the treaty following June's forest fires.
Balthasar said the government was currently waiting for the House of Representative (DPR) to discuss the ratification of the treaty.
He added that two foreign companies were in the midst of legal proceedings for allegedly causing forest fires in Riau in June, and that more companies might also face similar proceedings as the investigation continued.
As previously reported, the National Police had named a Malaysian firm ' PT ADEI Plantation and Industry, a subsidiary of Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad ' a suspect in a case of forest burning done in Riau in July to clear land for oil palm plantations.