... haze can reduce our immunity."
Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - It certainly is no easy task to break the vicious cycle of annual forest, peat land and plantation fires, which have affected Riau Province over the past 17 years.

Despite the Joko Widodo (Jokowi) administrations vow to end the misery of the people of Riau, who choke due to the smoke from haze caused by the wildfires, some 1,246 hectares of land, mostly peat land areas, was razed by fires over the last month.

Earlier this week, the acting governor of Riau, Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, reported the wildfires and the haze shrouding the provinces cities and villages to Forestry and Environmental Affairs Minister Siti Nurbaya in Jakarta.

The acting governor has urged private firms, particularly those engaged in rubber and palm oil plantations, to help douse the forest, peat land and plantation fires affecting the province at present.

"Today, we order private companies to take responsibility for the haze shrouding Riau. We are sure that their participation will help reduce the fire problem," Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, said in Pekanbaru, on July 28, 2015.

These companies must help extinguish the fires blazing in and around their areas and appeal to local residents to not set fire to land cleared for farming, he stated.

Moreover, Chairman of the Riau Chapter of the Association of Indonesian Forestry Concession Holders Ahmad Kuswara revealed that of the 58 existing forestry companies in Riau, 38 were members of the organization.

He also affirmed that these firms had been actively taking preventive measures against the fires by providing firefighting equipment.

Besides, of the existing 382 palm oil plantations in Riau, only 72 were members of the Riau Chapter of the Association of Indonesian Palm Oil Plantation Businessmen.

Furthermore, Kuswara believes that the fires were not set by companies that were members of his association, as they upheld the moral responsibility of aiding in firefighting efforts.

However, he suspects that new plantation firms that were clearing land for palm oil plantations were behind the fires.

In response to the governors appeal, PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) has deployed two helicopters and four pilots as well as hundreds of personnel to put out fires occurring outside the RAPP plantation area.

The pulp and paper industry has coordinated with the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) in the attempts to fight the fires.

Riau has declared July 1 to August 31, 2015, as a period of fire danger in all forest concession areas.

A total area measuring 1,246 hectares (ha) across Riau Province was razed by wildfires from June 24 to July 26, 2015, stated Chairman of the Riau Forest and Plantation Fires Task Force Major General Nurendi.

The worst affected district is Rokan Hilir, with 400 ha razed by wildfires, following by Pelalawan (232 ha), Bengkalis (177 ha), Dumai City (124 ha), Nurendi, who is concurrently commander of the Wira Bima 031 regional military command (Korem), noted in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau Province, recently.

The task forces personnel managed to put out fires in 1,125 ha of area, he remarked.

"However, due to the extreme hot weather and most of the affected land being peatland area, most of the fires reemerge if not supervised carefully," he pointed out, adding that he ordered his personnel to closely supervise the affected peatland areas.

In Gambut Jaya Kumpeh village, Muarojambi District, for instance, some 200 hectares of peatland have been razed by fires, which are now approaching residential areas.

The task force comprises joint teams from the Riau administration, the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI), the National Police, the Riau disaster mitigation office, and the Riau meteorology and climatology office.

According to Chief of the Riau disaster mitigation office Edwar Sanger, the office has deployed two helicopters: Mi 17 and Sikorsky to conduct water bombing activities over the fires. Sikorsky has a capacity to carry up to four tons of water during each sortie.

Besides this, a Hercules aircraft has also been deployed to conduct cloud seeding to produce artificial rains by using weather modification technology in Riau, which is currently being hit by El Nino-induced drought.

Sanger said the number of hotspots in the province has decreased thanks to rains and efforts to put out the fires.

In the meantime, the Terra and Aqua satellites detected 308 hotspots indicating wildfires on Sumatra Island, on July 26, 2015, Head of the Pakanbaru meteorology, climatology and geophysics office (BMKG) Sugarin said.

Riau was the largest hotspots contributor with 122 hotspots, followed by South Sumatra (59), Jambi (58), North Sumatra (25), West Sumatra (19), Bengkulu (10), Bangka Belitung (nine), Lampung (five), and Riau Islands (one), according to him.

In Riau Province, 44 hotspots were found in Pelalawan District, 17 in Bengkalis, 16 in Kampar, 14 in Indragiri Hulu, eight in Indragiri Hilir, seven in Dumai, five in Rokan Hilir, four in Kuantan Singingi, and two in Rokan Hulu.

On July 28, the number of hotspots across Sumatra, decreased to 148, including 45 in Riau.

The visibility in Pekanbaru on July 26 morning reached only one kilometer, which is the minimal safety limit for flights.

The air quality in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau, was categorized as unhealthy due to the haze arising from the wildfires.

In Riau province, some 1,022 people fell ill because of air pollution.

Authorities have urged local residents, particularly expecting mothers, children and the elderly, to stay indoors as they are more prone to be affected by haze.

The health office of Riau province has distributed 3,000 medical masks to residents of Pekanbaru.

Dr. Yohanes of the health office said recently that the masks were given to passersby and motorcyclists in three locations---in front of the Riau governors office and the heroes cemetery, as well as at the SKA Mall.

The province currently has a stock of 20,000 masks.

"The public must get enough rest, eat nutritious food and drink adequate amount of water because haze can reduce our immunity," he pointed out.

The Indonesian government is gearing up to face the effects of El Nino, which could reduce precipitation by 40 to 80 percent.

This natural phenomenon is affecting the provinces of Sumatra, East Java, Bali, West and East Nusa Tenggara, and Papua in particular, from June to November this year.

Reporter: Fardah
Editor: Priyambodo RH
Copyright © ANTARA 2015