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Jakarta Post

Riau issues emergency alert for wildfires as dry season begins

  • Rizal Harahap

    The Jakarta Post

Pekanbaru, Riau   /   Wed, February 12, 2020   /   06:04 pm
Riau issues emergency alert for wildfires as dry season begins A member of the Riau land and forest fire task force tries to distinguish flames in a peatland area in Kampar regency, Riau, on Sept. 24, 2019. (Antara/Rony Muharrman)

Riau has declared the emergency alert status for land and forest fires to warn residents of a possible haze crisis as the region enters the dry season.

Three areas in the province, namely Siak regency, Bengkalis regency and Dumai city, had previously imposed the emergency alert to anticipate the expansion of forest and peatland fires that the areas, among other parts of Riau, had been experiencing earlier this year.

Riau Governor Syamsuar said the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has warned that Riau would experience two dry seasons, one from late January to March, especially in northern Riau, and another from June to September.

“The provincial and city administrations will continue to mobilize the resources we have. The Riau wildfire task force will not only extinguish fires but also take action against perpetrators of illegal logging and land clearing by fire,” he said at a meeting on Tuesday.

Syamsuar said he would not give up in any crisis situation and would continue to try and tackle fires “without taking a day off”.

Read also: Tourism in crisis: Forest fires cause foreigners to cancel trips

He expressed regret over the repeated fire and haze crises in Riau since 1997 and the tremendous losses caused – with schools having to be closed, flight being postponed or canceled and thousands of residents suffering from respiratory infections due to smoke.

“We cannot have this situation become [a regular occurrence],” he said, adding that Riau’s 4.9 million hectares of peatland made the province very vulnerable to fires.

According to a disaster risk map of 2018, 80 villages are prone to land and forest fires in Riau. An update of the map in 2019 showed that the number had jumped to 346 villages spread across 99 subdistricts.

“One of the issues surrounding fire is land ownership. Therefore, the Riau administration will re-inventory permits for 387 plantation companies and 62 forestry companies to discover any overlapping land ownership,” he said.

Syamsuar also expressed hope that the central government, through the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), would continue to provide assistance, especially with regard to equipment and funding.

“The emergency alert status has been declared early so that the central government can hopefully provide immediate assistance to areas that are now trying to extinguish land fires,” he said.

Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Edwar Sanger said fires had occurred in 10 of 12 regencies and cities in Riau since the beginning of this year and had burned down a total area of 271 ha.

The worst-hit areas were Siak regency, where 98.47 ha were affected, Bengkalis regency with 60.90 ha, Indragiri Hilir regency with 42.10 ha, Dumai city with 31.85 ha and Indragiri Hulu regency with 21.50 ha.

Kepulauan Meranti regency (5.5 ha), Pelalawan regency (5 ha), Pekanbaru city (3 ha), Kampar regency (2.5 ha) and Rokan Hilir regency (0.25 ha) also reported fires.

“The number of hotspots with a confidence level above 70 percent is 60. The highest distribution is in Bengkalis regency with 27 spots, followed by Siak with 11, Pelalawan with seven, Indragiri Hilir with six, Dumai with five and Kepulauan Meranti with four hotspots,” said Edwar.

Read also: Indonesia’s raging forest fires, explained

BNPB secretary Harmensyah said that Riau was the first province in Indonesia to impose an emergency alert status for land and forest fires.

“The Riau governor should immediately write to the BNPB so that helicopters can be sent immediately to help extinguish the fires that the task force was unable to reach in Riau,” he said.

On Feb. 3, Harmensyah said, the BNPB had asked the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) to send weather modification technology (TMC) specifically to Riau to create artificial rain.

“Indonesian Military (TNI) and National Police personnel will be deployed to Riau as well,” he added.

Riau Military Resort commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Fadjar claimed to have deployed around 3,000 personnel at the command posts for wildfires.

“There is far more personnel in the posts than last year. Hopefully, they are able to respond quickly to hotspots,” Fadjar said.

"We will also continue to take preventive action by patrolling with the police and other stakeholders for the sake of a smoke-free Riau 2020,” he added. (syk)