Riau set emergency status for land burnings

EoF News / 22 February 2019
forest fires in Rupat in 2015. photo by Eyes on the Forest

Riau Province Government set emergency status of forest and land fires that effective from 19 February to 31 October 2019 following the intense burnings and haze in Bengkalis district, Dumai city, and Meranti islands district.

Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar confirmed that emergency status decision was shared by newly installed Riau Governor, Syamsuar, on Wednesday. Siti said four provinces -Riau, Jambi, West Kalimantan and East Kalimantan- would be fire-prone areas in upcoming months and the Government would consider seriously this threat.

The emergency status will enable the Indonesian Government to deploy sources and fund mitigation of burnings that faced by the province.

BNPB National Disaster Management Agency spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said 843 hectares of land burned in Riau province this year as of 18 February. The areas spread over Rokan Hilir district, Bengkalis district, Dumai city, Meranti islands district, Siak district, Kampar district and Pekanbaru city.

“Burning has caused some areas to be besieged by haze. In spite of this, its intensity, its coverage is not quite huge, and its duration is not long,” Sutopo said Tuesday as quoted by Riaupos.co.

Joint fire brigades had obstacles in extinguish fires in peat Rupat island, Bengkalis district as the wind blew very hard and there is badly water shortage in the area. “Now the fires hit all villages in Rupat sub-district,”said Jusman, Regional Head of Operation of the Ministry’s Manggala Agni fire brigade of  Dumai as quoted by Antara on Thursday.

According to another fire brigade official to Kompas.com, burning areas in Rupat island nearly reached thousands of hectares. The Manggala Agni team were supported by teams from police, Indonesian military, fire brigade communities and local government fire brigade.

Based on data by Eyes on the Forest report, Rupat island has drained peat hugely following operation of PT Sumatera Riang Lestari (38,210 hectares), a main fiber supplier of Asian Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) and Royal Golden Eagle (RGE). In recent years, some palm oil plantations including PT Marita Makmur Jaya also converted peat forest which believed to drive much more peat drainage and produced thick haze. Reports said PT Marita had conflicts with communities in Rupat over partnership in developing plantation.

Rupat sector police chief, Masrial, said that the escalating burnings could lead haze to enter Malaysia as the island is close to Malacca Strait and Malacca state.

Many parents of school children in Dumai city had their kids to get off from school as worsening air quality in the town by haze. “It’s better my kid is off from school rather than being sick due to haze from burning land, a housewife, Fifi, told Antaranews on Friday (15 Feb).

Reports said learning process still go on at schools in Dumai despite worsening air quality due to escalated burnings.

“We do not ask pupils to have days off from school but we still urge them to minimize doing outdoor activities and ask them to wear respirator, an official from Education and Culture Agency of Dumai City, said.

Head of Disaster Mitigation National Agency (BNPB) Doni Monardo said that the Indonesian government intensified law enforcement efforts against burning culprits as 500 companies were sanctioned with administrative penalty in the recent four years. While, four companies’ licenses were revoked and 21 companies were suspended, according to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry data as quoted by CNNIndonesia.com Friday (22 Feb).