Indonesia calls for tough haze action

Smog has become an annual event in the region. Source: Flickr

Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Riau on Sumatra has called for tougher measures to tackle fires in the province, warning that haze might reoccur like in previous years.

“Currently, the wind tends to blow to the southeast. If smoke haze occurs, there is a significant chance it will be brought by the wind to our neighbouring countries,” BMKG Pekanbaru head Sugarin said. Satellites detected 54 hotspots in Rokan Hilir on Monday, the highest concentration in Riau. “In total, 92 hotspots were detected in Riau this morning, 84 of which were in coastal areas with a significant amount of peatland,” said Sugirin.

“The number of hotspots in the province has increased significantly, as only 66 hotspots were detected on Sunday. This is because of the dry weather, which makes the land a lot more flammable.”

Indonesia’s plantation firm Sampoerna Agro says it is considering how to respond to a recent court ruling issuing the archipelago’s largest ever fine for forest fires.

Sampoerna Agro spokesman Michael Kesuma said the firm was considering an appeal against a Jakarta court ruling on August 11 that found Sampoerna negligent in relation to fires on 3,000 hectares in Riau in 2014, and issued 1.07 trillion rupiah (S$110 million) in fines.

Five other lawsuits are being pursued against firms blamed for forest fires, environment ministry spokesman Novrizal announced.

Jakarta believes an intensification of legal action could help deter the use of fire to clear land.┬áLast year PT Kalista Alam was fined 366 billion rupiah after being blamed for fires in Sumatra’s Aceh province.

Efforts to fine firms allegedly responsible for forest fires suffered a setback late last year when a judge rejected a US$565 million lawsuit against a pulp and paper manufacturer, PT Bumi Mekar Hijau.

The fires are often started in the dry season by companies clearing land for plantations, causing a haze crisis that blankets large parts of Southeast Asia in filthy smoke.

Indonesia has the third-largest area of rainforest and has angered it’s more affluent neighbours by failing to stop the annual disaster.

Sumatra and Kalimantan on Borneo are the main offenders, where large forest concessions are used by pulp and paper and palm oil manufacturers, some of which are listed in Singapore.

Singapore announced in June that it was planning to prosecute Indonesian polluters in its courts under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.