Indonesia president warns of forest fires as hot spots detected; Covid-19 cases escalates above 1.288 million

Wooden houses are pictured as smoke covers trees due to the forest fires near Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan province, Indonesia, September 29, 2019. - Reuters

JAKARTA, Feb 22 (Reuters): Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Monday local authorities should get prepared for potential forest fires later this year as hot spots had been detected on the island of Sumatra.

The South-East Asian country has suffered some of the biggest tropical forest fires outside the Amazon and Congo in recent years, putting at risk endangered animals like orangutans and tigers and sending choking haze across the region. "Ninety-nine percent of forest fires are perpetrated by humans, whether intentional or out of negligence," Jokowi, as the president is widely know, said in a virtual meeting with officials.

Farmers often used fire as a cheap land clearing method, the president said, calling on local governments to get forest fire containment infrastructure ready.

Jokowi said Sumatra is facing a rising risk of forest fires this month and warned that the Kalimantan region on Borneo island, as well as Sulawesi island, could also start seeing forest fires in May to July, with the peak expected in the August to September period.

The president said the fires could cause considerable financial losses and "not to mention the damage to our ecology and ecosystem."

Fires, sometimes set to clear land for palm oil plantations in the world’s top producer of the commodity, were the most damaging in years in 2015, with the World Bank estimating they caused $16.1 billion of damage.

Meanwhile, fires in 2019 caused total damage and economic loss amounting to at least $5.2 billion, equal to 0.5% of gross domestic product, the World Bank said.

State news agency Antara, citing a meteorology official, reported that number of hot spots in Riau province on Sumatra island has jumped to 63 as of Monday, from nine a day earlier.

Meanwhile, The Covid-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 10,180 within one day to 1,288,833, with the death toll adding by 202 to 34,691, the Health Ministry said on Monday.

According to the ministry, 9,918 more people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 1,096,994.

The virus has spread to all the country's 34 provinces.

Specifically, within the past 24 hours, West Java recorded 3,812 new cases, Jakarta 2,466, Central Java 1,047, East Java 434 and East Kalimantan 404.

No more new positive cases were found in West Kalimantan province. - Reuters
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