Thu, 29 May 2003

Government warns of more forest fires

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government said on Wednesday forest fires might spread from Riau, West and Central Kalimantan to several provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan as total hot spots now reached 234.

The government also urged local administrations in those islands to take necessary measures to anticipate fires which often cause haze in Malaysia and Singapore.

Willistra Danny, division head of forest fires detection and evaluation at the Ministry of Forestry said as of Tuesday there were 128 hot spots in Riau, 49 in North Sumatra, 38 in South Sumatra and 21 in Aceh.

He, however, said that hot spots in Kalimantan were unrecorded as the satellite did not pass the island.

"Local administrations should now take necessary actions to control forest and bush fires," Willi said.

"It's quite ridiculous that forest and bush fires occur and that the central government must send teams to put out the fires."

According to him, the central government should only give early forest fire warnings and issue policy.

So far, he said the central government had given provincial administrations warning letters to control forest and bush fires as the El Nino effect would be still strong after June.

"We also call on forest concessionaire holders, plantations and local people not to use the slash-and-burn method when clearing their land," he said.

Routine patrols by forest rangers should also be conducted continuously to monitor burning activities in Sumatra and Kalimantan, he said.

So far, only five provincial administrations in Sumatra and Kalimantan had replied to the central government letters, he added. "They include South Sumatra, East Kalimantan, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan," Willi said.

Last week, the Malaysian Environment Department said thick haze had returned to Malaysian skies in a yearly occurrence brought on by dry weather as well as increased fires in the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

It reported that satellite images on Tuesday last week detected 49 hot spots -- areas showing high levels of heat caused by burning -- in Sumatra, which were believed to be forest fires.

Riau, West and Central Kalimantan have reportedly confirmed the presence of forest fires in their areas.

The Riau Environmental Impact Management Agency (Bapedalda) chief Ahmad Syah has said, "if no actions are taken we will be facing the same fate as in previous years. The haze that starts covering parts of the province, including the city, will disturb air traffic not only in the province but also in neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia and could cause respiratory problems for locals".

The government has so far taken legal action against several plantation companies that burned trees when clearing their land.

So far, the local administration has fined a Malaysian company PT Adei Plantation US$1.1 million for burning forest areas.