Forest and land fires could plague the Indonesian province of Riau again, with an increasing number of hotspots being detected in recent days.
Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency head Sugarin, who goes by one name, said that satellites first detected the hotspots on Sunday. “At that time, six hotspots were detected. The following day, the number increased to seven, with hotspots in Siak, Pelalawan and Kuantan Singingi,” he told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday (Jan 11).
According to the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre, the number of hotspots in Sumatra rose to 11 on Tuesday before dropping to one on Wednesday. It also detected a hotspot in Kalimantan on Wednesday.
The centre has not released the figure for yesterday yet.
Riau is right across the Strait of Malacca from Singapore, and Siak and Pelalawan regencies are located at eastern Riau facing Singapore. And according to Mr Sugarin, the most fire-prone areas in Riau are
Rokan Hilir, Siak, Bengkalis, Dumai and Meranti Island in the eastern coastal area.
Mr Sugarin also said that slash-and-burn practices and high temperatures could be behind the reappearance of hotspots, adding that the dry season from February till March in Riau could make the province’s forests more prone to fire.
Haze caused by Indonesian farmers who burn forests to clear their land for agriculture is an annual occurrence that sends smog wafting northward to Singapore and Malaysia.
While Indonesia has ratified the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution that seeks to reduce haze pollution in the region, policies and enforcement efforts could be hindered by the layers of bureaucracy in the Indonesian government and further complicated by conflict between local communities and plantation owners for instance.
Riau Environment and Forestry Agency head Yulwiriati Moesa has confirmed the hotspots in the province, saying that they are caused by a forest fire in Kuantan Singingi regency. “The forest is located on a hill and it’s difficult for firefighters to move around (to put out the fires). Water resources are also very limited,” she observed.
Ms Yulwiriati added that the Riau Governor has been notified of the situation and hopefully, the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry will intervene to quell the situation.
“Hopefully, the central government will send helicopters soon to Riau. Otherwise, the fires might spread (to other areas),” she said.
Haze caused by forest fires in Sumatra has blanketed the region in recent years.
In late 2015, Singapore, as well as Malaysia and parts of Thailand suffered a severe haze that affected tens of millions of people, forcing the closure of schools and causing thousands to fall sick across the region.
And in June 2013, fires in Riau caused a haze that was behind Singapore’s record Pollutant Standards Index of 401, which is 100 points above the hazardous threshold.