JAKARTA — Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Ministry is set to dispatch helicopters to Riau and Kalimantan to help maximise ongoing efforts to prevent and control land and forest fires, amid growing concern that transboundary haze could soon return.
“We are waiting for the arrival of the helicopters they’ve promised us. Helicopters will also be sent to Kalimantan,” said Riau Environment and Forestry Agency head Yulwiriati Moesa during a coordination meeting at the Riau gubernatorial office on Friday (Jan 13).
Ms Moesa did not state the number of aircraft that they will soon receive.
Expressing hope that the aircraft will arrive soon, she said the helicopters will be used to help 12 regencies and municipalities to monitor and patrol areas that are prone to land and forest fires.
“The helicopters will ease our agency’s task to prevent and control land and forest fires in locations difficult to reach via land routes,” the Jakarta Post quoted her as saying. “I observed fire locations in the Bukit Betabuh protected forests in Kuantan Singingi regency several days ago. Firefighting teams faced difficulties in reaching fire spots in hilly areas. That’s why we need the helicopters,” she said, adding that plans are afoot to set up an integrated patrol team to anticipate fires in forest areas.
The Riau province is located in Sumatra, which is right across the Strait of Malacca from Singapore. The Kuantan Singingi regency is located in Riau. Last week, there were fears that the transboundary haze could return after up to seven hotspots were detected in several regencies in Riau.
Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency head Sugarin, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, had warned that forest and land fires could plague Riau again, noting that the dry season from next month until March in Riau could make the province’s forests more prone to fire.
According to the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre, the number of hotspots in Sumatra rose to four on Friday before registering zero on Saturday. It also detected a hotspot in Kalimantan on Saturday.
Haze caused by Indonesian farmers who burn forests to clear their land for agriculture is an annual occurrence that sends smog wafting northward to Singapore and Malaysia.
In late 2015, Singapore, as well as Malaysia and parts of Thailand suffered a severe haze that affected tens of millions of people, forcing schools to close and causing thousands to fall sick across the region. And in June 2013, fires in Riau caused a haze that was behind Singapore’s record Pollutant Standards
Index of 401, which is 100 points above the hazardous threshold. AGENCIES