Jakarta, November 2010—Even though 2010 is dominated by wet season, forest fire and hotspots have continuously occured in some parts of Indonesia. Until October 2010, the number of hotspot has increased significantly. According to the lates data published by Ministry of Forestry, from 1 to 25 October, 2,683 hotspots were recorded in Indonesia, with most of them located in Riau (546 hotspots), West Kalimantan (540), Central Kalimantan (433), South Sumatra (332), and East Kalimantan (219).
An increasing number of hotspots serves as a majorindicator of forest and land fires. The biggest fires located in Riau Province, where the fires burnt more than 5,000 ha of peat land-dominated areas. The GIS analysis by WWF-Indonesia (based on MODIS satellite data) reveals that the hotspots in Riau were distributed on several types of land use, as follows: hotspots in Industrial Forest (39%), palm oil concession (20%), and in other land use-including local community land (41%).
Some hotspots on Industrial Forest are identified as areas encroached by local community for small-holder palm oil plantation (based on field finding, some parts of timber plantation area in Riau have been cleared or overlapped with communities’ palm oil plantation).
Haze Over Cities in Indonesia and Neighbouring Countries
The immediate and visible impact of forest fires is haze. The haze has blanketed several capitals of province and other cities in Riau (Pekanbaru, Dumai, Batam), West Kalimantan (Pontianak), Jambi (Jambi), South Sumatra, and North Sumatra (Deli Serdang). Because of the haze, several flights in Pekanbaru airport were delayed.
This trans-boundary catastrophe has become a problem for neighbouring countries as well. The winds heading to the north transferred the haze to Singapore and Malaysia. As a result, many schools in Muar District, Malaysia, were closed.
Wet Season and Forest Fires: Cause and its Supporting Factors
The domination of wet season this year has made people and government paid small attention to forest and land fires. On the contrary, forest and land fires began to occur in the middle of October, particularly in Riau. The disregard has made them “unprepared” dealing with fires.
Intentional burning for land clearing purposes took place on several sunny days during the raining period. The rampant land burning and extremehot weather caused massive and widespread fires. These fires were difficult to suppress, particularly those burning peat land.
Forest and Land Fire in the Following Six Months
By determining and analysing the factual current situation, it is predicted that until the end of the year and the beginning of the next year, several province such as Riau, West Kalimantan, and Central Kalimantan are still prone to forest and land. This argument is supported by the fact that several provinces, particularly Riau, is dominated by peat land which is vulnerable area for forest and land fires.. The areas are potentially to be burned because of human behaviour and many concession licences issued by local government for palm oil plantation. Extreme temperature and poor law enforcement system further aggravate this problem.
Unfortunately, government efforts to curb forest fires are more reactive then preventive efforts. Comparing to reactive efforts such as extinguishing the fire, the prevetion efforts are far more efficient. Hence, the government should focus more on that along with strong law enforcement. Cohesive work among parties involved in Forest and Land Fires Control Centre (Pusdalkarhutla) must be reinforced, so the available resource can be well accommodated. Addressing the issue of peat land fire, there should be no more conversion in this area including those for palm oil and timber plantations. Another way to prevent forest fire is by involving local community in sustainable land and agricultural management including knowledge transfer about zero burning method for land clearing.
By: Dedi Hariri