Indonesia gears up to fight health-damaging forest fires

JAKARTA: Four Indonesian provinces have declared emergencies in anticipation of worsening forest fires that each year spread health-­damaging haze across much of South-East Asia.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said yesterday that emergency alerts in Riau and South Sumatra provinces on the island of Sumatra and West and Central Kalimantan on Borneo would make it easier to mobilise fire-fighting operations and support from the central government.

The agency said satellites had detected 90 “hotspots” or fires across Indonesia, with the biggest numbers in West and Central Kalimantan.

Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province, had been blanketed in smoke, it said.

Record Indonesian forest fires in 2015 spread haze across a swath of South-East Asia and, according to a study by Harvard and Columbia universities, hastened 100,000 deaths.

Fires are often started by smallholders to clear land for planting.

Many areas of Indonesia are prone to rapid burning because of the draining of swampy peatland forests for pulp wood and palm oil plantations.

Pontianak resident Reinardo Sinaga said rain in the past few days reduced the choking smoke that had affected the city for the previous two weeks.

He said haze from peat and forest fires shortened visibility in the streets to around 20m to 25m and caused respiratory problems for many residents.

“Heavy rains in the past days have helped us,” Sinaga said. “We hope authorities are able to crack down on the forest burners.” — AP

Indonesia , forest fires