Indonesia’s Riau province declares emergency due to forest fires

There has been a state of emergency declared yesterday in Indonesia’s western province of Riau due to numerous forest fires occurring on the island of Sumatra. Provincial government spokesman Darusman stated that the early declaration of emergency was “to prevent a repeat of the haze that occurred in 2015.”

In early September 2015, the Pollution Standards Index rose to the “very unhealthy” range in Singapore due to forest fires created by slash-and-burn agriculture that took place mainly on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia.

Currently, Darusman reports that approximately 500 military and police personnel and a water-bombing helicopter have been deployed to help fight the fires. He also added that the haze had not yet reached urban areas and that life in the province of Riau was continuing normally. Additionally, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has urged authorities to contain forest fire hotspots, where the fires initially start and then spread to their surroundings.

On 25 September last year, the Environment and Water Resources Minister at the time Dr Vivian Balakrishnan named five companies likely to be responsible for forest fires in concession land in Indonesia. Included in this list was Indonesia’s largest paper firm Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). APP’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs Jose Raymond addressed the issue of hotspots on APP concessions in a radio interview on 938 LIVE on 20 February this year. He stated that the company’s strategy is focusing more on prevention of the hotspots as opposed to simply management of the hotshots after they have already emerged. APP faced problems where fires were found to have been started in their suppliers’ concessions in Indonesia despite a no-burning policy put in place by the firm since 1996.

Overall, despite past efforts in previous years by Indonesia and neighbouring countries to prevent the fires, or put them out once started, there has been limited success in controlling the haze in the Southeast Asian region.