Forest and Land Fires Hit 1200 Hectares of Riau Province by February

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Riau (Greeners) – Current forest and land fires in Bengkalis district of Riau which blanketed Dumai city with smokes have burned down at least 1,200 hectares of peatland, said activist on Monday (25/02/2019).

The fires in Riau have been occurring since early 2019 and worsened by land burning practices.

Rico Kurniawan, executive director of Indonesian Forum for the Environment or WALHI Riau chapter, said that smokes have been polluting Dumai city for the past week, resulting to less than three kilometers of visibility and will harm residents of the city.

“We regret the slow response of Dumai administration for these smokes as it is happening for a week, but there are no actions from local government to its own residents,” said Kurniawan. “Currently, people are going with their activities, normally, with thick haze. Schools are not closed down and people are not being evacuated or warnings to get out of the house.”

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Furthermore, he said that the forest and land forests have been going on in Riau since 2019 due to hot weather in Dumai, Bengkalis district, Meranti and Rokan Hilir, which hotspots were located. The worst haze occurred in 11-13 February 2019.

“Since last year, BMKG [Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics agency) had announced of long dry season, so, that’s a warning system to local governments which areas often experienced forest and land fires, especially on peatland,” he said. “However, Riau government seemed to ignore this [warning] as forest and land fires have already hit 1200 hectares of areas, either in people or companies’ lands. WALHI underlined other reason for this forest and land fires is weak peat recovery.”

Meanwhile, Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya, said that forest and land fires in Riau has different hotspots pattern which would still be spotted by March.

“So, Riau will always going to be like that, always by the end of February, it starts to get hot until March. Even forest and land fires happen in December 2018. It is most likely that hotspots will be increasing until May. However, what is important now is the mitigation concept, that is as fast as possible to put out the hotspots,” said Minister Siti in Jakarta.

Furthermore, she said that Riau is under Disaster Alert based on the governor’s letter because of the fires mostly happened in people’s lands.

“Fires in peats have been going since long time ago. Only under Jokowi administration, peats become one of the concerns and since three years ago, the intensity of peat fires have been drastically declining. We will continue to monitor through patrols, so, if there’s fires, it will be immediately put out,” she said.

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Head of National Mitigation Disaster agency (BNPB), Doni Monardo, citing the agency’s data that 99 percent of forest and land forests is because of human activities, and the remaining one percent is because of natural causes, which had happened in Riau.

The latest report from the agency stated 600 hotspots in Bengkalis of Riau which potentially lead to forest and land fires.

“In the future, BNPB will look for solution for this forest and land forests. Maybe in the future, people can be coordinated or educated by the armed forces, police, and local government, so they would not open land with burning because the state loss because of forest and land forests is massive, transportation mode, tourism and public health are affected,” said Monardo.

Reports by Dewi Purningsih