Indonesia is bracing for devastating and more frequent forest fires, following the recurrence of bush and forest fires in many regions of the largest archipelagic country in the world.
As of July 2019, forest fires were recorded to have devastated a total of 30,477 hectares, Agus Wibowo, spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), stated.
Forest and bush fires engulfed the provinces of Aceh, Riau, Jambi, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, and West Papua, Wibowo remarked here Tuesday.
Forest fires devastated a total of 27,683 hectares in Riau, 2,274 in West Kalimantan, 236 in South Sumatra, 142 in Aceh, 58 in West Papua, 53 in South Kalimantan, 27ha in Central Kalimantan, and four in Jambi.
"The BNPB and the Agency for Technology Assessment and Application (BPPT) have conducted aerial operations to induce artificial rain," he remarked.
Nearly 99 percent of the fires were triggered by intentional or accidental human activities, he believed.
The Indonesian Military and Police have deployed 1,512 officers to prevent and help extinguish forest fires in the five provinces of Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, and South Kalimantan that have declared an emergency alert status.
The presence of peatlands in the five provinces along with Jambi makes them susceptible to forest fires in the dry season. However, there is no alert declared in Jambi, Wibowo pointed out.
Earlier, this year, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) had reminded the regional authorities to step up vigil over possible forest fires and droughts, as this year's dry season was forecast to be drier than that of the previous year. The extreme dry season has affected several areas since May and is expected to last until September, with the condition likely to peak in August.
Last Sunday, haze arising from forest fires blanketed the sub-districts of Tampan and Senapelan in Pekanbaru, Riau Province, Sumatra Island.
"At the moment, none of the residents is suffering from health problems due to the impact of the smog," Acting Head of the Palangka Raya Health Office, Andjar Hari Purnomo, said recently.
Over these past few days, bush and forest fires have been spotted in certain areas around the city. On July 2, a thin cloud of smog blanketed the city's sky.
His office has undertaken precautionary measures to anticipate unexpected eventualities by ensuring the readiness of health centers and the availability of medicines, Purnomo said.
As part of the precautionary measures, health workers recently distributed face masks to the city's firefighters, he said.
The deployment of BNPB
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) through institutions such as the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police is expected to deploy thousands of officers to reduce forest fires.
The agency would dispatch 1,000 military personnel and 205 police officers to villages in Riau, West Kalimantan and Jambi, provinces that were vulnerable to forest fires, BNPB Secretary-General Dody Ruswandi said.
“They will try to educate locals on how to utilize the land so that they do not burn the forest anymore,” Dody told reporters during a press briefing at the BNPB headquarters in Central Jakarta Thursday.
Many locals were involved in burning the forest for economic purposes, the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s Acting Director for Forest and Land Fire Control, Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan, said on the occasion.
“We are trying to change their paradigm and culture of burning forests but it will take much more time and effort,” he said.
The military personnel
Indonesian military personnel have been included in the joint efforts in South Sumatra Province to conduct public awareness campaigns in several districts.
The campaigns have been conducted in districts such as Banyuasin and Ogan Komering Ilir, Chief of the 044/Garuda Dempo Military Resort Command, Major Binsar J Simanjuntak, said Wednesday.
Precautionary measures were also taken by monitoring vulnerable areas, Simanjuntak said, speaking to local journalists here.
The same preventive measures have also been taken by the Banyuasin district military command.
Considering this challenging reality, the South Sumatra police has warned plantation companies and farmers in the province to avoid slash-and-burn farming methods.
"The community members and plantation companies found conducting burn farming methods will be punished," the South Sumatra Police Headquarters spokesman, Senior Commissioner Supriadi, said.
BPPT for artificial rains
Meanwhile, the Technology Assessment and Application Agency (BPPT) also participated in weather modification technology, better known as artificial rain, to overcome drought and forest and land fires in the Riau region.
"We are using weather modification technology for forest and land fires in Riau," said Head of the BPPT Center for Weather Modification Technology Tri Handoko Seto when contacted by ANTARA here Monday.
The BPPT had also received requests from regions such as South Sumatra to use the same technology, Seto said.
In addition, the Jakarta administration submitted a request to utilize the technology to overcome air pollution, according to him.
BPPT spends around Rp50 billion annually to use the technology, he noted, adding that when demand increases, BPPT can spend Rp70 billion to Rp80 billion from technology users to make weather modifications.
In addition to using the technology to stimulate the acceleration of the process of rain, BPPT also helps efforts to wet peatlands to reduce the risk of fire.