Indonesia on high alert for forest fires until November as dry season is delayed: Environment minister

Indonesia on high alert for forest fires until November as dry season is delayed: Environment minister

FILE PHOTO: File picture of firefighters trying to extinguish forest fires at Sebangau National Par
File picture of firefighters trying to extinguish forest fires at Sebangau National Park area in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan province, Indonesia on Sep 14, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Willy Kurniawan)

JAKARTA: Indonesia needs to be on extra alert for possible forest fires until at least November as there is a delay in this year’s dry season, said Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar on Friday (Jul 17).

Citing data from the meteorological, climatological, and geophysical agency (BMKG), Mdm Bakar said the peak of the dry season in several areas of the country is expected to begin in August and September.

In previous years, the peak of the dry season began around July and August. By October, the rainy season will arrive.  

“This means, we need to work hard until October and November. This makes (me) uneasy. We will continue to monitor this,” the minister said.

READ: COVID-19 hampers Indonesia's fight against forest fires as haze season looms

The BMKG has forecasted a wetter dry season this year.

Between Jan 1 to Jul 15 this year, the ministry noted 919 hotspots in Indonesia compared to 1,655 hotspots during the same period last year.

But it does not mean the ministry is taking the forest fires lightly, Mdm Bakar said, especially since the country is combatting COVID-19.

“COVID-19 and land and forest fires must not occur simultaneously, I’m very afraid of that,” Mdm Bakar said.

To prevent the fires from recurring this year, the ministry is focusing on improving the technical weather modification system. This means coordinating closely with various agencies and having solid weather and climate analysis. 

It is also increasing communities’ law awareness by working together with village heads, local authorities and local disaster agencies to educate people about forest and land fires. 

The ministry also aims to find alternatives ways of land clearing which does not involve slashing and burning such as using bush cutters, said Mdm Bakar.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil and each year, fires are linked to slash-and-burn practices used to clear areas for palm oil cultivation. This has in the past resulted in transboundary haze.

Last year's fires were particularly damaging, with 1.6 million hectares of forest and peatland burned.

As of Friday, six provinces have declared a state of emergency, namely: Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and East Kalimantan.

Source: CNA/ks(aw)

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