JAKARTA: Amid a growing number of hotspots in Indonesia, five provinces in Indonesia are on emergency alert for the spread of forest fires in peatlands.
In a statement on Wednesday evening (Jul 26), the country's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said the five provinces are Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan.
"The status will help the local governments to fight forest fires and the decision was taken after several regencies and districts in the provinces had earlier declared an emergency alert status," said BNPB's spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.
Satellite images from the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space shows the number of hotspots creeping up, from 168 on Sunday to 269 on Thursday.
But two regencies in Riau province had declared themselves to be on emergency alert as far back as January to tackle any potential forest fires that could get out of control when the weather gets drier.
Earlier this month, the district of West Aceh also said it was on emergency alert when forest fires had spread over 70 ha within a week.
By setting putting themselves on emergency alert early, regions can ask for aid from the central government to tackle small fires and prevent them from growing into bigger ones.
Taking such anticipatory measures was one of the lessons learnt from the massive forest fires blanketing parts of Indonesia and its neighbouring countries with smog for months in 2015.
The environmental crisis destroyed 2.6 million hectares of peatlands and the World Bank estimated that it had caused US$16 billion in economic losses.
The Indonesian government had pledged to avoid a repeat of that disaster and has put in place mechanisms and processes to combat forest fires and transboundary haze. Indonesian President Joko Widodo had called for preventive measures, tougher law enforcement, more community involvement and better governance of private land and concessions.
Those measures appeared to have been effective as the number of hotspots went down by 83 per cent last year. Experts have said favourable weather conditions also helped.
Indonesia's neighbours have also shown appreciation for progress made in keeping forest fires and transboundary haze in check.
"Efforts to manage and prevent forest fires that have been done by the Riau provincial government have been very impressive," Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman told Indonesia's Antara news agency during his visit to Riau on Tuesday.
However, Indonesia is still grappling with the problem of intentional land burning. BNPB said majority of the forest fires were caused by culprits purposely using fire as an easy and cheap method to clear their land.
Over the past week, police in Palembang, South Sumatra have arrested two people for allegedly clearing land by burning.