Indonesian president intervenes in roaring forest blaze

March 15, 2014

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono left Saturday for Sumatra, to take the lead in an operation to combat massive forest fires, which has so far proved fruitless.

The two-week emergency status over the fires, which are still ripping through vast tracts of forest, was extended Wednesday as water-bombing proved futile against the flames.

Yudhoyono this week criticised the response led by officials in the province and said Friday he would take control of the response.

"I want the regional officials in Riau to stand on the frontline to prevent and handle this haze. Why is it still happening? The people have become victims," he wrote, adding "the results are unsatisfactory".

A report by the Washington-based World Resources Institute this week said the current fires were cloaking areas in thick smog.

It said the situation was the worst on Sumatra since blazes in June last year, when the choking haze reached as far as Singapore and Malaysia.

Air pollution in some parts of Riau province have hit "dangerous" levels in recent days, with 50,000 people receiving treatment for respiratory illnesses, the national disaster agency said, while schools and some businesses have been forced to close.

The response had involved more than 800 personnel and 10 aircraft, while Jakarta sent an additional 2,500 people on Saturday to reinforce the effort.

Like Sumatra, Malaysia has been experiencing weeks of drought, with haze levels in some parts reaching hazardous levels on Friday, according to the Department of Environment's website.

But Malaysia showed a drop in pollutant levels Saturday, and light rains had begun to fall in Riau late Saturday, according to disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, who confirmed the team had been cloud-seeding all week.

The World Resources Institute report said "clearing land for agriculture was the major direct cause of the fires".

It said that paper giants Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) had significant fires in their concession areas, based on images by Global Forest Watch, a website that can track fires in near real time.

APP, which has no-burn and zero-deforestation policies in place, did not confirm that fires were burning in its concession areas, but said: "We do not practice and highly condemn slash and burn activity for its detrimental impact on the environment".

APRIL could not be immediately contacted.

Forest fires on Sumatra are an annual problem, but are more common during the dry season later in the year.

Explore further: Indonesia sorry over haze as thousands sent to fight fires

Related Stories

Indonesia sorry over haze as thousands sent to fight fires

June 25, 2013

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has apologised to Singapore and Malaysia over fires that have cloaked the countries in thick haze, as thousands more emergency workers were deployed on Tuesday to tackle the blazes.

Haze returns to Indonesia as fires rage

August 27, 2013

Fires cloaked parts of Indonesia's Sumatra in thick smog Tuesday, forcing the cancellation of flights, two months after blazes on the island sparked Southeast Asia's worst haze crisis for years.

Indonesian farmers take legal action over haze

September 11, 2013

Indonesian farmers in a province at the centre of Southeast Asia's worst smog outbreak for years have filed a lawsuit against the president in response to the haze crisis, activists said Wednesday.

NASA image: Fires in Northern Sumatra

February 6, 2014

Fires dot the coast of Northern Sumatra, Indonesia, in this Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite image collected on February 06, 2014. The MODIS instrument is aboard the Terra satellite and actively ...

Northern Sumatra dealing with smoke from fires

February 28, 2014

On February 27, 2014, the Wall Street Journal and Southeast Asia Realtime reported that: "the plantation-rich province of Riau on Indonesia's Sumatra Island has declared a state of emergency as fires set for land clearing ...

Recommended for you

Ice sheets may be more resilient than thought

September 3, 2015

Sea level rise poses one of the biggest threats to human systems in a globally warming world, potentially causing trillions of dollars' worth of damages to flooded cities around the world. As surface temperatures rise, ice ...

Clues from ancient Maya reveal lasting impact on environment

September 3, 2015

Evidence from the tropical lowlands of Central America reveals how Maya activity more than 2,000 years ago not only contributed to the decline of their environment but continues to influence today's environmental conditions, ...

Climate ups odds of 'grey swan' superstorms

August 31, 2015

Climate change will boost the odds up to 14-fold for extremely rare, hard-to-predict tropical cyclones for parts of Australia, the United States and Dubai by 2100, researchers said Monday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.