Riau blanketed by haze, hotspots detected in concessions

EoF News / 18 February 2014

EoF News (PEKANBARU) - After being free from haze and fires since September 2013, Riau’s annual problem, haze and wildfires, returns to Riau since the end of January 2014. The increasing hotspots  which are found in plantations’ concessions as well as outside concessions which have caused the worsening air quality in the province, as schools closed and thousands people infected by respiratory infections. So far, 9 small-scale farmers have been arrested and no companies probed by the police.

The fires raged in 11 districts, namely Bengkalis, Indragiri Hilir, Indragiri Hulu, Kampar, Meranti, Dumai City, Kuantan Singingi, Pelalawan, Rokan Hilir, Rokan Hulu, and Siak. EoF analyzes the hotspot distribution from 6-12 February 2014 using NASA FIRM MODIS satellite and found 606 hotspots, most of them found in industrial forest plantations and palm oil plantations. Among the affected districts, Bengkalis has the most hotspots.

There were 138 fire hotspots acquired in the concessions of industrial timber plantation during the period and 120 hotspots in palm oil concessions. PT Guntung Hasrat Makmur has the most hotspots among the palm oil companies and PT Rimba Rokan Lestari, a supplier of APRIL for the industrial plantation.

The effects of forest fire catastrophe has affected most Riau citizens’ lives, especially those living near the hot spot areas. The condition worsens as the dry season lets the wind to spread the fire faster. In Pekanbaru, pre-schools and elementary schools are temporarily closed due to thick haze until February 20th 2014, junior high school and high school students are warned not to conduct outdoor activities, as reported by Tribun News ( Tuesday, 18 February 2014).

Tribun also reported that a data from Riau Health Service revealed that the victim of respiratory infection due to recent forest fire has reached the number of 12,840 people within these two weeks. Beside producing unhealthy air, the haze also causes short visibility of only 500 meters. Some flights from Pekanbaru were also canceled and delayed.

Randi (34), a citizen of Dayun, Siak District, told Tribun News Online that he lamented such re-occurrence. He wanted the goverment to seriously solve the problem. “The government should be able to anticipate the fire from happening. And the police must also be able to take firm action against the perpetrators that set the fires,” he said.

So far, the police has arrested nine people accused of setting the fires and all of them are ordinary citizens, mostly are small-scale farmers. “I think they [suspects] are ordered by companies or bosses to do so, there should be probe further to persons who mastermind such a situation,” said Muslim Rasyid of Jikalahari told EoF News. “No company names listed on the perpetrators list while many hotspots are found in their concessions.”

Zenzi Suhadi, a campaigner at WALHI, stated that “It’s the mistake of the Indonesian government When they issue a land concession, they failed to consider the environment and the rights of the local people. So it’s normal that after the environment has been badly damaged, that there would be consequences like forest fires and floods. They should review the concessions given to companies which illegally clear the land,” as quoted on The Jakarta Globe.

In retrospect, most of forest fires in the previous year were found in plantations’ concessions. There are eight companies named suspects by the Environmental Ministry’s law enforcers on setting the Riau wildfires in 2013 consisting of four palm oil companies and four pulpwood suppliers. Palm oil company PT Adei Plantation and Industry now is prosecuted. The other suspects are PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, PT Bumi Reksa Nusa Sejati, PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo, PT Sumatera Riang Lestari block IV (APRIL), PT Sakato Prama Makmur (APP), PT Ruas Utama Jaya (APP) dan PT Bukit Batu Hutani Alam (APP).