Pekanbaru in Riau Province has been covered in thick smoke for over a week, forcing schools and universities to send students home. (Antara Photo/Rony Muharrman)

Jokowi, Ministers Travel to Riau to Coordinate Response to Forest Fire Emergency

BY :ANTARA & NUR YASMIN

SEPTEMBER 16, 2019

Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, accompanied by ministers and top officials, departed for Pekanbaru, Riau, on Monday to coordinate efforts to extinguish forest fires that started spreading in the province and parts of Kalimantan over the weekend.

"Tonight is the meeting and tomorrow the president and us will directly observe the situation in the field," Chief Security Minister Wiranto said in Jakarta before departing for Riau.

He said the president wanted to see for himself and receive direct reports on the forest fires in Pekanbaru.

"The government is working fast. This is an emergency; if it is not handled immediately and systematically with sound support, we will be overwhelmed," the minister said.

The other ministers accompanying the president are Coordinating Human Development and Cultural Affairs Minister Puan Maharani, Health Minister Nila Moeloek, Social Affairs Minister Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmira, Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya and National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Doni Monardo.

A screenshot taken from NASA Worldview on Sunday, showing forest fires on the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi.
A screenshot taken from NASA Worldview on Sunday, showing forest fires on the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) said on Monday that there were 11 active fires in Riau alone, compared with 27 on Sunday. The province has been covered in thick smoke for over a week, forcing schools and universities to send students home.

The Riau University Hospital has treated more than 40 patients for respiratory complaints since Friday due to the poor air quality. Riau residents have been advised to wear respiratory masks while outdoors.

Local farmers and corporations have been blamed for the recurring forest fires. The National Police said on Monday that they had arrested 185 people and representatives of four companies for starting forest fires.

"The Jambi Police arrested 14 suspects, but no corporate representatives, and the South Kalimantan Police arrested two individuals," National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Dedi Prasetyo said on Monday, as quoted by CNN Indonesia.

He added that the Central Kalimantan Police arrested 45 individuals and one corporate representative, while the West Kalimantan Police have arrested 59 individuals and representatives of two companies.

"We have concluded that 99 percent of the forest fires were caused by people," Dedi said.

Separately, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has sealed concession areas in Riau belonging to 10 companies accused of starting forest fires. Some of them are palm oil producers and at least one is a Malaysian company.

There has been a 50 percent increase in the number of active fires in Indonesia between January and July this year, compared with the corresponding period last year, affecting some 135,000 hectares, according to the BNPB. The worst fires occurred in the provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, and South Kalimantan.

The fires, which have been a recurring phenomenon in Indonesia since 2015, have destroyed more than 2.7 hectares of forest, causing total damage of approximately Rp 225 trillion ($16 billion). The World Bank reported that Indonesia releases about  5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per day.

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