Based on observations by the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan) with the Modis satellite, 288 hotspots have been detected with a moderate (30 percent to 79 percent) to high (80 percent or higher) confidence level on Sunday (03/07). (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

Indonesia to Spend Rp 700b to Quell Forest Fires in Fortnight


OCTOBER 12, 2015

Jakarta. The ongoing Sumatra and Kalimantan haze crisis will be over in a fortnight, President Joko Widodo has promised, but extinguishing all the fires will cost Indonesia at least a total of Rp 1.3 trillion ($97 million).

Joko set a bold target on Saturday to have all fires  often started by people burning land and forest to clear the way for agriculture  under control within two weeks.

Coordinating Minister for Politics, Legal and Security Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan told reporters in Jakarta on Monday that the government is set to spend Rp 700 billion to achieve this, which would bring the total amount spent on quelling forest fires to more than Rp 1.3 trillion.

"The House of Representatives and the Finance Ministry have approved the budget," Luhut told a press conference at his office with the environment and forestry minister, the foreign affairs minister, the health minister and the chief of National Police.

According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), haze mitigation efforts have already cost the state Rp 500 billion, as more than 20,000 police and military personnel and volunteers have been deployed to fight the fires since last month.

An additional 6,000 personnel are expected to be deployed in the coming days, while last Friday Indonesia finally accepted aid from six countries, including Japan, China and Russia.

Asean solidarity

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar  who previously declined Singapore's military assistance in putting out the wildfires  said the government wanted to do all it could before deciding to accept the aid from Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries as regulated under the region's Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

"This is solidarity from the Asean countries,," Siti said. "The amount of burned peatland has reached 580,000 hectares."

The agreement, established in 2002 but only ratified by Indonesia in September 2014, requires all parties to cooperate to mitigate transboundary haze pollution, as well as to respond promptly to "a request for relevant information sought by a state or states that are or may be affected" by such pollution in order to minimize the impacts.

Malaysia and Singapore, who were both forced to close schools, pressured Indonesia to contain the haze crisis which also ended up blanketing the sky over southern Thailand earlier this month.

Previously, the Indonesian government would brush off cries from the neighboring countries while vowing to end slash-and-burn practices, a technique that has been used for decades and is estimated to be five times less costly than the safer method of using heavy machinery.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla has made snide comments, asking the neighbors to be grateful for the 11 months of clean air that Indonesia's forests provide.

Humanitarian aid

On Sunday, the country already employed help from Singapore and Malaysia to extinguish land and forest fires in South Sumatra.

Seven helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft were tasked with a water bombing missions and a Cessna plane assigned to perform cloud seeding operations was deployed by the joint task force to the province, where 65 of 90 hotspots detected across Sumatra can be found, the BNPB said on Monday.

Among the planes is a Malaysia-owned Bombardier 415 MP plane with a six-ton water capacity, which will be on loan to Indonesia until Friday, while Singapore's contribution comes in the form of a Chinook helicopter with a five-ton water capacity that will remain available through Oct. 23.

Meanwhile, Australia is scheduled to send a Hercules L 100 aircraft, capable of carrying 15 tons of water, on Tuesday or Wednesday, which will remain on hand for five days.

Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said on Monday that all foreign aid would come purely in the form of humanitarian efforts.

"None of the foreign aid is commercialized," she said.

Facing trial

On Monday, the chief of National Police, Gen. Badrodin Haiti, said that 12 plantation companies  including firms from Malaysia and China  have been named as suspects for setting fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan and will face prosecution.

Meanwhile, more than 200 companies, mostly from countries in Southeast Asia, are under still under police investigation.

If found guilty of violating Indonesia's 2009 Law on Forest Conservation and Monitoring, companies will be placed on Indonesia's blacklist, expected to be completed in December, and may have operational permits revoked.

One million face masks

Six provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan — Riau, Jambi, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan — have declared a state of emergency because of the fires and haze.

But the situation escalated as reports of deaths believed to have been caused by the choking smog surfaced, including a 28-day-old baby named Huseun Saputra who died last Wednesday from an acute respiratory ailment.

The Health Ministry has shipped more than one million face masks and 5,200 N95 respirators to all areas hit by haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Carbon emissions

Environmental group Greenpeace estimated that the amount of carbon emitted in this year's fires might exceed that of 1997, when Indonesia produced between 0.81 and 2.57 gigatons of the pollutant, equivalent to 13 to 40 percent of the entire world's annual fossil fuel emissions.

Indonesia has vowed a 29 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030  a 3 percent hike from its previous pledge of 26 percent by 2015  and will likely be in the spotlight at the UN's climate change conference in Paris in December.

This year's haze crisis will likely to cause the country to break its 1997 carbon emissions record, Greenpeace says.