Borneo fires on rise 

Indonesia has detected a growing number of wild fires as dry weather continues.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said satellite pictures showed there were 173 fires on Thursday and 239 on Sunday.

It included 126 peatland fires in West Kalimantan, mainly concentrated in in Sintang, Kapuas Hulu and Sanggau districts.

“Clearing of land by burning is still prevalent in these areas,” BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said. “Even though it is not allowed, appeals are often made and we conduct patrols, the reality is there are still many cases of intentional land burning.”

Acrid smoke from the illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations covered Singapore, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand for more than a month in 2015. Schools closed, sea and air travel was disrupted and some Indonesians fled their homes. The smoke crisis cost Indonesia US$16.1 billion in losses, according to the World Bank’s estimates.

After the 2015 fires, palm oil producers like Sime Darby and IOI Corp joined the Fire Free Alliance to support Jakarta’s efforts to prevent clearing land with fire. The programme covers more than 200 villages, measuring at least 1.5 million hectares across the sprawling archipelago and promoting community-based fire prevention initiatives.

A slight haze has already been reported over West Kalimantan.

BNPB said the authorities were fighting the forest fires but were facing difficulties in gaining access to the trouble spots with limited water and equipment available. The dry season is expected to last until September.

The provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West and South Kalimantan were most at risk from peat fires, the agency reported last week.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said fires in West Aceh had been put out.

“But we have asked that the team on the ground to be on standby because the fires may reignite,” she said.

President Joko Widodo last week asked ministers and governors to enforce a moratorium on new permits to clear forest and peatlands for another two years. The ban, issued in 2011, has now been extended twice as environment groups and consumers, including Unilever and Nestle, have demanded palm oil with a sustainable certificate.

Indonesian firefighters trying to contain forest fire in Banjarbaru in 2015. Picture credit: Wikimedia