La Nina Helps Curb Forest Fires in Indonesia

Jakarta--Only one hot spot of forest and bush fires was detected by NOAA Satellite on Sumatra Island on Friday, compared to tens of hot spots a few days ago.
"For Sumatra, just one hot spot was detected, namely in South Sumatra Province. There is none in Riau Province, thanks to rains which have fallen in Riau including Dumai over the past several days," Marzuki, an official of the Riau Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), said in Dumai, Riau Province, Friday.
It was a significant decrease from around 86 hot spots detected by NOAA 18 Satellite on February 18, 2011. The hot spots were from forest and plantation fires occurring in Aceh, Riau, North Sumatra, Jambi, South Sumatra, Bengkulu, Bangka Belitung and Riau islands, according to Marzuki recently.
With the existence of the hot spots, most of the areas in southern and northeast Sumatera, like Jambi, Riau and South Sumatera, were covered by haze last month. In Riau Province alone, NOAA (the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration detected 29 hot spots last February 8, which caused Dumai city to be covered by thick haze and reduced the visibility to only 1,000 meters.
"A number of flights at Pinang Kampai airport had been delayed due to thick haze covering Dumai City as the visibility was less than 2,000 meters, Achwin, Head of the Pinang Kampai airport operational service, said last February.
At least 30 hectares of agricultural areas were burned in Dumia city alone. The fires affected an integrated agricultural zone (KPT) at Pelintung village, however, they had lessened thanks to the rains which had fallen in the area over the past few days, Hadiono, head of the Dumai agricultural office, said in Dumai on February 23.
Dumai’s Natural Resources Agency (BKSDA) chief Ismail Hasibuan said efforts to put out the fires were hampered by lack of water resources and the far range of the hot spots.
"The water supply is very limited, and we have to look for it in far places, and partly by digging wells, because most of the existing canals have dried up," he explained.
He said it would take a lot of time to extinguish even just one hot spot because it was located in deep peat area. In South Sumatra, tens of hectares of Pagaralam forests were also razed by fires on February 19.
"Quite many forests were on fire and the affected total area might reach hundreds of hectares, including at Lematang Indah area," Parkazi Gumay, a local resident of Pagaralam, said.
However, there is an encouraging trend regarding Sumatra’s forest and bush fires. The number of hot spots in Jambi province alone has been decreasing in the last five years since 2005, Sucipto, Head of the Jambi Pest Control and forest fires, said in Jambi recently.
In 2010 the number of hot spots in Jambi reached 623, a significant drop from 1,604 spots in 2005, 6,692 spots in 2006, 2,782 in 2007, 2,020 in 2008, and 1,784 in 2009. This year, up to February, satellite monitoring recorded 45 hot spots which spread in nine districts of Jambi Province.
Just for comparison, the NOAA 18 satellite had detected 277 hot spots on Sumatra Island, including 161 hot spots in Riau Province alone, in July 2010. Another good news is that, despite the forest and bush fires on Sumatra Island early this year, Batam and Singapore are expected not to be covered by haze because it is now the northern winds season.
The wind in the region was southbound so that the haze would not cover Batam and Singapore, according to the Head of Observation Division of Climatology and Geophysics Agency of Batam, Imam Prawoto, on March 2. Imam said forest fires in 2011 would not be as severe as in 2007 because the weather in 2011 was not too hot as the country has been experiencing La Nina nature phenomena which brings a lot of rains.
La Nina is quite the opposite of El Nino which often causes drought like in Indonesia. Partly thanks to La Nina, the forest and plantation fires early this year did not cause so much trouble compared to those in the previous years, which had even crossed the borders to neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
Although the haze is expected not to affect the neighboring countries, still representatives of five ASEAN member countries last February met in Singapore, among other things, to discuss joint efforts to overcome forest and bush fires on Sumatra Island .
The ASEAN transboundary haze meeting was participated in by delegates from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, according to Husaini, the head of Bengkalis district’s environmental agency, recently.
"The meeting in Singapore has put the forest and bush fires in Riau province, including those in Bengkalis district, into the meeting’s agenda. This is actually a classical matter," he said.
In June 2002, ASEAN adopted an ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution that entered into force in November 2003. But, Indonesia has yet to ratify the ASEAN haze pact. Most forest fires causing haze were actually triggered by plantation companies applying the cheapest method to open new plantation areas.
In 1982-83 and 1994, forest fires in Indonesia had destroyed 6.4 million hectares of forests, especially in East Kalimantan. The fires were worsened by El Nino which had caused severe drought in the country having a total forest areas of around 120 million hectares, the world’s third largest after Brazil and Congo. (kompas)

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