Riau Haze Back Again as Dry Season Sets In

By Jakarta Globe on 08:00 am Feb 06, 2014
Category Environment, News
A car drives past fire from burning trees planted for palm oil, during haze at Bangko Pusako district in Rokan Hilir, on Indonesia's Riau province, June 24, 2013. The illegal burning of forests and other land in Indonesia to clear space for palm oil plantations is a chronic problem during the June-September dry season. (Reuters/Beawiharta)

A car drives past fire from burning trees planted for palm oil, during haze at Bangko Pusako district in Rokan Hilir, on Indonesia’s Riau province, June 24, 2013. (Reuters/Beawiharta)

Jakarta. Heavy smog has been reported in the provinces of Riau, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan from suspected slash-and-burn forest clearing, reviving the specter of the diplomatic row sparked by the same problem last year.

Tri Budiarto, the deputy for disaster management at the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said in Jakarta on Wednesday that those regions had for the past two weeks been experiencing a dry spell, while the rest of the country was hit by torrential rains causing widespread flooding.

“What we’re seeing in Riau, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan is local weather that’s different from the general weather across the country,” he said.

“Elsewhere it’s raining, but there it’s already dry.”

The extended spell of days with no heavy rain is believed to have encouraged residents to begin clearing land for farming, Tri said, with most setting forest fires as the easiest means of doing this.

The BNPB has recorded haze from forest fires in the Riau districts of Bengkalis and Meranti and the town of Dumai, as well as in the Central Kalimantan district of Pontianak and two other districts in Central Kalimantan.

“We’ve notified the local offices of the BNPB in all three provinces, and they’ve begun observing the spread of the fires and the haze,” Tri said.

He said the provincial disaster mitigation agencies, or BPBD, were working with other local authorities to stop the spread of the fires and to be on the alert for fires burning out of control.

Forest fires in Riau last June generated immense amounts of smoke that drifted across the Malacca Strait, shrouding Singapore and parts of Malaysia and Thailand for several days, and sending air pollution indexes there to record highs.

The conditions prompted officials from Singapore and Indonesia to trade diplomatic blows over who was responsible for the thick smog covering much of the region. Singapore criticized Jakarta for failing to curb the annual fires, while Indonesian officials alleged that the plantation companies accused of setting the fires were registered in Singapore and Malaysia.

At the time, several individuals were named suspects by the police for setting some of the fires, but no prosecutions have taken place.

In Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, officials recorded 61 fire hot spots as of Sunday, following a week of heavy smog.

The local office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said the most hot spots, each indicating a major fire, were in Bengkalis district, which had 29, followed by Siak district, Indragiri Hilir (nine), Pelalawan (eight), and Rokan Hilir with three hot spots.

The number of hot spots is expected to increase, with the BMKG saying the rainy season had effectively ended in Riau.

Officials at Pekanbaru’s Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport said visibility was down as a result of the haze, but not to the point that flights would have to be grounded or redirected to other airports.

However, in Pontianak, the West Kalimantan capital, heavy smog prompted officials at the city’s Supadio Airport to ground seven flights on Wednesday morning because of poor visibility.

Chandra Dista Wiradi, the airport’s general manager, told Tribunnews.com that flights scheduled to take off in early the morning had to be delayed for two hours until the haze lifted somewhat.

He said 700 passengers were affected by the delay.

The local office of the BMKG has recorded 55 hot spots in neighboring Kubu Raya district.

  • So proud to be Indonesian!

    Those forest fires are actually excellent news. It clears the useless jungle and we can put more palm oil plantations on it. Forest fires occurred naturally since millennia so what’s the big fuzz. We are just helping nature and on top of it we are re-foresting with palm-oil trees which are useful and the trees look much more organized than a wild-growing forest – like an army of trees – I LIKE THAT!

    Plus of course we give the guarantee to our hostile neighbours that, when we finally managed to replace the dirty jungle and all those useless animals in it with palm-oil plantations that there will be no more forest fires. Plus of course – it’s all for those poor local farmers, so we also help the local economy to be prosperous – trust me!

    Anyway, why are our hostile neighbours like Singapore and Malaysia always complaining about the haze – if they don’t like it they can move somewhere else. Plus they can give us their land too – historically it can be proven that we have a god-given right on it anyhow (we are always able to do just that)! This is our land and we can do whatever we want with it!

    And those useless NGO’s from western sunset countries who are just exporting dirt – we will satisfy them with some useless government agency which will feign that it cares about the forest and protects and let the president swing some grandiose speeches (his ghost-writers are doing an excellent job in that) – that always works well.

    Plus of course give us some more substantial financial aid so we can fight efficiently the deforestation (yeah, yeah, yeah – or so we say but in reality we pocket the money for a bunch of shiny cars and mansions).

    All in all – it’s another glorious day!

    • DD

      pnarrr

  • Greenbug

    Maybe these fires were also started by the same 14 Malaysian corporation named as suspects in last July incident was were not arrested nor charged for reasons only known to the Riau Governor?