The Jakarta Post
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has called on authorities to prepare better disaster mitigation measures ahead of the dry season in August when forest fires are more likely to occur throughout most of the archipelago.
Citing a Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) report, Jokowi said about 17 percent of the country entered the dry season in April, while 38 percent saw the start of it in May and 27 percent in June.
"Most of the regions […] will experience [the peak] of the dry season in August. We now have at least a month left to prepare," Jokowi said during the opening of a limited Cabinet meeting in Jakarta on Tuesday.
He further reminded his aides about the urgency of better management when dealing with forest fires in the field. "[The measures] must be well-consolidated and well-coordinated.”
Jokowi said authorities needed to improve measures for identifying fire-prone areas and provide more updated information by utilizing technology to double down on monitoring and surveillance activities.
“In Riau, for instance, the system used there is able to describe the ongoing situation in detail. I think other areas that have many vulnerable hot spots could follow suit,” he said.
Besides utilizing technology, the President stressed the importance of creating “infrastructure for monitoring” that involved all levels of authority, including local authorities in villages. He also urged his aides to strengthen law enforcement.
According to a recent study from Madani Berkelanjutan, an environmental NGO focusing on forest and land management, at least 44 percent of land and forest fires in Indonesia last year occurred in peatland.
Environment and Forestry Ministry data show that 1.65 million hectares of forest and land burned in 2019, second only to the 2.61 million ha that burned during massive fires in 2015. The 2020 figure currently stands at 38,772 ha.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Doni Monardo said the national task force for land and forest fires would pay special attention to peatland as peat fires could produce very thick smoke.
“It could be dangerous for those who are suffering from respiratory illness, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
Jokowi said he had asked the relevant authorities to consistently focus on maintaining the peatland ecosystem by keeping such areas wet.
In this regard, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya explained on Tuesday that the ministry was studying climate patterns and the emergence of hot spots, especially during the period between August and July.
“We can apply weather modification [by creating artificial rain], with the help of the BMKG, the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) and the Air Force,” she said, adding that weather modification was introduced in Riau and other areas of Sumatra during a critical phase from April to May.
“We will continue to do this, possibly in areas in Kalimantan too, so that the rain will provide water for the reservoirs that have been built on the peatland,” Siti said.