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Jakarta Post

Riau steps up vigilance on fires

  • Rizal Harahap

    The Jakarta Post

Riau   /   Mon, February 6, 2017   /  10:56 am
Riau steps up vigilance on fires Man-made disaster – A photo journalist attempts to avoid thick smokes from burned bushes as he covers land fires in Pekanbaru, Riau, on Jan.11. (Antara/Rony Muharrman)

Facing a higher risk of forest fires as a result of a prolonged dry season, Riau province administration will deploy a special team of over 1,000 personnel to prevent “annual” disastrous haze that is caused by slash-and-burn practices.

On Friday, 1,500 personnel from the military, police, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and members of several related organizations gathered in Pekanbaru to ensure the joint operation’s preparedness.

Riau Governor Arsyad Juliandi Rachman said the gathering also aimed to warn individuals or companies operating in the province to not clear new forest areas with burning methods.

“All the elements of forest fire mitigation, including the government, law enforcers, and other officers will unite and work together to take firm action against perpetrators. We are very serious about this. No one should attempt to burn the forest.”

“Preventive measures should be taken as early as possible. We have no excuse not to act immediately because all the necessary facilities and tools are available.”

He said early prevention, as well as good cooperation between all stakeholders had proven effective to prevent the disastrous haze that occurred annually in Riau since 1997, bar last year when the number of hotspots decreased to 17 percent compared to the previous period.

“We hope last year’s success in preventing forest fires can be achieved again. We have declared Riau’s status as being on high alert. All institutions should contribute and work together,” Arsyad added.

BNPB head Willem Rampangilei said last year’s haze could be prevented partly due to La Nina and a humid dry season. “The situation is different this year because the dry season has gone on longer [than usual].”

“For this year, the period when the province will be most prone to forest fires is February and June. We should be able to anticipate this.”

He also reminded companies involved in the forestry and plantation industries to contribute in preventing the forest fires. “The forest area that needs to be monitored is very large, and we have a limited budget and personnel to do the monitoring by ourselves. Therefore, we all should work together,” he said.

“The agency will provide two helicopters by the end of this month, which could be used to monitor the forest area. We need helicopters to access areas that are affected by fire or to prevent fires from [spreading],” Willem further said.

(Read also: Indonesian government remains vigilant on forest fires)

The Environment and Forestry Ministry has also prepared 400 Manggala Agri group personnel, supported by hundreds of members from other groups, to help tackle the fire problem.

“The ministry also donated 217 motorcycles, fire-proof clothes, as well as two operational vehicles to support the early prevention measures,” said the ministry’s director for forest fire control, Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan.

Maj. Gen Lodewyk Pusung, commander of Bukit Barisan, also reiterated his squad’s readiness, saying that 1,500 personnel were available, and if more were needed, another 1,200 could be deployed from North Sumatra. Any small-scale slash-and-burn practices should be immediately stopped, he said.

Lodewyk further said his squad had learned from incidents in previous years, and had prepared new strategies to combat against any burning practices happening.

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