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'No mercy' for firms responsible for forest fires in Indonesia: Minister

Channel News Asia - January 26, 2023

Jakarta – Indonesia will take stern action against firms that are found to have caused forest fires in the country, Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar warned on Wednesday (Jan 25).

She was quoted as saying by state news agency Antara that there will be "no mercy" for those who are caught.

"If forest fires happen because of (the activities of) the private sector, there will be no mercy (for the firms)," Ms Siti said at a press conference.

She added that firms will be "immediately given a warning" once a fire hotspot has been identified on their land.

"As soon as a hotspot is detected (in the area owned by them), we will immediately give a warning (to them)," she was quoted as saying by Antara.

The country's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Mohammad Mahfud Mahmodin also called on firms that deal with forest management to help in handling the forest fires.

"If (a disaster) happens, the consequences or losses that arise will also befall the companies," Mr Mahfud reportedly said.

Antara on Wednesday also reported that the Indonesian government has been taking firm action against the perpetrators of forest and land destruction in the country.

It cited a recent lawsuit the government won against PT Agri Bumi Sentosa in which 1,500 hectares of land was damaged in South Kalimantan in 2019.

The company was required to pay material compensation of 160.69 billion rupiah (US$10.7 million) and environmental restoration costs of 591.55 billion rupiah.

During the 2019 Southeast Asian haze, thousands of fires were started in Indonesia in order to clear land for crops. Media reports then stated that some 900,000 Indonesians reported suffering from acute respiratory infections as a result of the haze in the first nine months of that year alone.

Measures to extinguish land and forest fires

Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has also prepared several measures to help prevent forest and land fires in the country. They range from ground to air operations, and will focus on the six provinces that regularly experience the disaster: Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, and South Kalimantan.

"It does not rule out the possibility of forest and land fires in other provinces. We will also take precautionary measures," head of BNPB Suharyanto was quoted as saying by Antara.

He added that the ground operations will aim to extinguish hotspots before they grow and will involve officers from the armed forces, police as well as the environment ministry while patrol and water bombing helicopters will be deployed for air operations.

Antara reported that BNPB will also utilise weather modification technology, formerly known as artificial rain technology, to create rain and put out fires.

Mr Suharyanto reportedly said that the technology is a part of efforts to prevent forest and land fires by wetting peat, which was found to be an effective method for handling such fires in 2020.

Although Indonesia is currently in its rainy season, the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has predicted an increase in forest fires this year, similar to that in 2019 when 1.64 million hectares of land were affected by fires.

In comparison, 204,896 hectares and 358,864 hectares were affected in 2022 and 2021 respectively.

The agency added that rainfall is expected to be lower this year as compared to rainfall in 2022 as well as in 2019, when the country experienced severe haze then. – Agencies/ya(as)

Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/asia/indonesia-firms-forest-fire-measures-air-ground-operations-323335