A child running away from smoky haze in South Sumatra's Ogan Ilir district on Sunday. (Antara Photo/Nova Wahyudi)

Jokowi to Discuss Drought, Wildfires With Key Aides


AUGUST 31, 2015

Jakarta. With the end of the dry season not nearly in sight due to this year's El Nino, wildfires raging out of control and parts of the country barely coping with thick smoky haze, President Joko Widodo is looking for solutions.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbabya was set to meet the president on Monday, along with key climate change advisers such as special presidential envoy Rachmat Witoelar and Sarwono Kusumaatmadja.

"The problem of forest fires will be one topic of discussion," Teten Masduki, a spokesman for Joko, said on Monday morning. "A lot of issues will be talked about, but it's about coordination."

Forest fires in Jambi and South Sumatra, meanwhile, continued to also cover parts of North Sumatra in smoke, causing problems for people in major cities such as Medan.

"[The weather's] already hot, but now my eyes also hurt from that smoke," Edi Gunawan, a 36-year-old motorcyclist, said on the streets of the North Sumatra capital.

In Binjai, another city in the province, and in Deli Serdang district, thick smoke was keeping people inside.

"I can't work outside," said Deli Serdang resident Sulastri, 42. "This smoke makes the weather even more unbearable. My children have started coughing."

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) is advising people in the region to wear face masks when they need to leave the house. 

Activists in Jambi say palm oil entrepreneurs and the government are not doing enough to prevent the fires or to contain them.

The head of the provincial branch of the environmental group Walhi, Musri Nauli, said some palm oil companies are even suspected of deliberately starting the fires.

"Based on our preliminary research, some of the fires are being lit on purpose," Musri said.

The Jambi city administration decided to keep all schools closed last weekend due to the smoke.

Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), meanwhile, has said that the drought experienced in parts of the country is only going to get worse when the El Nino weather phenomenon comes into full swing in the remainder of the year.

Citing analysis from the country's weather agency, the BMKG, as well as from similar bodies in other countries, the BNPB said last week: “What's happening right now is a moderate El Nino that is [still] growing stronger, and it is predicted to last through early 2016."

“Impacts from the global climate phenomenon have been very much felt this August, and will be getting worse in September.”