Jakarta. The Environment and Forestry Ministry said it will use artificial rains to extinguish escalating forest and land fires in Sumatran peatlands in May.
Indonesia experienced its worst forest fires last year, with close to 152,000 spots ablaze across forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan – the country's key palm oil-producing regions.
The fires destroyed more than 857,000 hectares of forest and peatland, 13 times the size of Jakarta, while the smoke and haze from the fires caused acute respiratory illnesses for more than a million people.
Deputy Environment and Forestry Minister Alue Dohong said the government will use artificial rain to prevent fires from spreading out further this year, a time when the country has to deal with another disaster attacking people's respiratory system: the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We can prevent forest and peatland fires using weather modification to wet the peat and fill up water reservoirs and canals. We're also going to do regular patrols to make sure wells and canals have water in them," Alue said in a statement on Tuesday.
The ministry's secretary-general, Bambang Hendroyono, said due to its high cost, weather modification will only be used in areas most prone to fires.
"The cost for TMC [weather modification technology] is quite high, we're only going to use it in areas where there have been forest and peatland fires in the past five years," Bambang said.
The director-general of climate change control at the ministry, Ruandha Agung, said the ministry's fire brigade, the Manggala Agni, will be deployed to prevent fires, especially in Sumatra.
"So far this year we've used nine helicopters for air patrol and waterbombing in Riau. We've dropped more than 11 million liters of water bombs. We've also used up 27 batches of TMC using more than 21 tons of salt," Ruandha said.
The ministry is planning its next weather modification for the beginning of May in coordination with the Technology Assessment and Application Agency (BPPT), the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) and the Indonesian Military.
The BMKG forecast that by then some clouds would be still available for rain seedling – a method of weather modification by "spraying" aerosols onto clouds to create rain.
The BMKG said rainfall would start to decline just before June.
Aside from using weather modification, the ministry is also intensifying other efforts to prevent fires in collaboration with regional governments and state agencies.
The ministry has sent circulars to 15 governors and 31 mayors and district heads, urging them to start the land-wetting process.
It has also distributed a peatland map that has been overlaid with existing and possible fire spots.