Lenny Tristia Tambun, Jakarta – Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud M.D. claimed on Tuesday the government had made important inroads to minimize forest fires and is now intensely preparing for the coming dry season despite having to dedicate most of its resources to fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
"In the last few years, we've managed to prevent forest fires from escalating into major disasters," Mahfud said after a limited cabinet meeting with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo at Merdeka Palace in Central Jakarta.
The government's success has also led to fewer protests from environmental activists – both within the country and abroad – in the past five years.
According to Mahfud, the government's preparation for the dry season this year is closely tangled up with its efforts at overcoming the coronavirus pandemic.
National Covid-19 Task Force head Doni Monardo said smoke from forest fires will be especially harmful for Covid-19 patients.
It also poses health risks for people with respiratory diseases such as asthma or acute respiratory infections (ARI), according to Doni.
Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said the country – especially Riau, parts of northern Sumatra and Aceh – typically faces two "critical phases" during the forest fire season.
The first phase is in March-April and the second starting in June-July with a peak in August-September.
During these two critical phases, the ministry will use artificial rains and weather modification technology to put out fire hotspots.
They will use data from the Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) to target the most dangerous fires.
Earlier today, President Jokowi ordered his ministers to prepare ways of preventing or managing forest fires during the dry season. He especially asked for increased monitoring of fire hotspots.
"Even though we've got our hands full fighting this pandemic, we can't forget that the dry season is upon us and we'll have to gear up to prevent forest fires," Jokowi said.
The president said 99 percent of forest fires are caused by human activities. For that reason, strict law enforcement will be needed to prevent them.
Jokowi had asked the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) and the Public Works and Housing Ministry to maintain high groundwater levels on peatlands to keep them wet so they are not easily consumed by fire.
BMKG reported that in April the dry season had hit 17 percent of the regions in Indonesia. In May, the number had increased to 38 percent. In June, a further 27 percent have seen the beginning of the dry season. In other areas, it will start in earnest in August.
The president said the government will spend the next month preparing its response to possible forest fires.