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Jakarta Post

Minister Siti drops in on Riau to check haze problem

  • Rizal Harahap

    The Jakarta Post

Pekanbaru   /   Wed, November 19, 2014   /  11:23 am

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya conducted an impromptu visit, or blusukan, in Riau on Tuesday to get an insight into the forest fires and haze that have plagued the province, amid efforts to prevent the disasters from recurring.

During a visit to the Riau Haze Disaster Command Station at the Roesmin Nurjadin Airbase in Pekanbaru, Siti held a dialog with academics, conservationists and a number of regional heads, promising that the government would resolve the haze issue.

'€œWe must avoid mismanagement. Development should be carried out by managing natural resources properly, maintaining sustainability and the rights of future generations,'€ Siti said.

'€œForest and land fires must be regarded as crises, otherwise they will persist,'€ she added.

She also emphasized that law enforcement against violating companies would be strict and consistent.

Assessment by the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) found that 17 companies, comprising 12 industrial forest concessions (HTI) companies and five plantation companies were recalcitrant and had triggered fires in their concession areas after failing to comply with the policies that govern the prevention of land and forest destruction.

'€œThe field audit showed the government was serious about requiring the business sector to comply with the rules. Supervision must be heightened and every line mobilized in the field,'€ said Siti.

Meanwhile, Riau University Disaster Study Center (PSB) director Haris Gunawan said the government must formulate a thorough and comprehensive solution to the haze issue, which has dogged Riau for 17 years.

'€œI'€™m not denying that efforts have been made, but there needs to be a new strategy to resolve the haze issue comprehensively. We need to think outside the box,'€ said Haris.

He explained that the root of the problem of forest fires in Riau was dry peatland as a result of massive and uncontrolled canalization. Based on research conducted by the PSB, peatland fires in Riau have reached the innermost layer of peat, meaning that the spread of fire is not visible from the surface.

'€œDry peat is very difficult to douse when it burns. In Rokan Hilir regency, land was burning in February and March, then in April and May there was extended torrential rain. Yet when we arrived in May, the peatland area was still emitting smoke,'€ said Haris.

Consequently, he urged that forest fires be put out now, while Riau is in the rainy season. Moreover, 46 percent of Riau'€™s 8.7 million hectares of territory is peatland area.

The haze is considered by many to be an irresolvable plague that will recur every year despite all efforts.

'€œIt must be ended. We have new hope. President Joko Widodo must be brought to Riau. He should act as a symbol of the spirit to resolve the haze disaster and help Riau find a final solution,'€ said Haris.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Riau chapter director Riko Kurniawan said the forest fires were attributable to the poor management of natural resources.

'€œThe existing regulations actually protect peatland, but in reality peat can dry up because of exploitation. Peatland is actually wet and difficult to burn, so if peat'€™s burning now, this must be investigated,'€ said Riko.

Greenpeace Indonesia activist Teguh Surya complained that the government only acted when haze occurred, and that prevention efforts would stop when it rained.

'€œWe hope the current government will resolve the haze issue. Haze will stop when the right solution is achieved,'€ said Teguh

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