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Indonesian authorities stepping up preventive measures against haze

Local authorities in Indonesia's Riau province are taking steps to prevent the plantation and forest fires that have been typically the cause of the choking haze in the region in recent times. 

PEKANBARU, Riau: As the dry season returns to plantation areas across Indonesia, the possibility of choking haze in the region is growing.

And local governments are taking steps to try and stop the fires once and for all.

In Riau province, where temperatures are rising, people are bracing for a comeback of the haze.

This area was the hardest hit in recent plantation and forest fires; and over the past decade, it has usually been during this time of the year when hot spots are normally detected.

When they are detected, and the wind direction shifts, the haze will eventually spread overseas.

"Whether there's a fire or not, the wind direction will still move from the southwest to northeast towards Singapore," said Sugarin, Station Head, Pekanbaru Meteorology and Geophsyics Agency. "If land is being burnt, then the wind will blow the haze towards neighbouring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia."

An emergency alert status for the province has been in force since April.

Authorities have begun raising awareness of illegal land clearing in 12 municipalities and ordered wells and water holes be established in fire prone areas.

"If a fire is found, the community can be the ones to first respond to it," said Riau's Governor, Annas Maamun. "They can work together to put out the fires while they are still small."

Plans are also underway to involve 4,000 students from local universities to spend a part of their senior year on community service directed at combating fires.

Five equipped fire monitors from each village will also be trained to help extinguish the blazes and report to the local government.

"If there is a plantation fire lit up by irresponsible people, these monitors will report it to us directly," said Said Saqlul Amri, Chief Executive, Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency. "Further, there will also be three designated personnel on stand-by at each district office."

In hopes of better handling future forest and plantation fires, the Riau Governor has proposed increasing the regional budget for disaster management by four times, to as much as US$3.5 million.

While the budget awaits legislators' approval, the local government has more than US$800,000 ready for use in tackling the first signs of plantation fires. 

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