Forest fires were detected on Monday in three provinces of Sumatra, namely Riau, North Sumatra, West Sumatra; and two provinces of Kalimantan, namely West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan. The Indonesian Government has declared these incidents a national disaster and has released an amount of 100 million rupiah to support the fire suppression efforts.
In April last year, ASEAN adopted a "zero-burning" policy and urged all countries to quickly implement the necessary laws and regulations to enforce this major decision aimed at controlling the transnational environment pollution caused by forest and land fires.
The Indonesian Director of Forest and Estate Crops Fire Control under the Ministry of Forestry and Estate Crops (MoFEC) sent Monday warning letters to forest concessionaires, timber plantations, and estate crops, where hot spots have been detected. This was followed by a meeting among MoFEC Director, the National Board for Environment Impact Control (BAPEDAL) Forest Fires Director, and the Provincial Governor of Riau on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of taking legal actions if necessary.
The Indonesian forestry command posts at the national and local levels have been tasked to monitor the situation. The Indonesian Government has anticipated this possible recurrence of forest fires and haze and advised the public in February that the dry season might come earlier than expected.
Reports on the wind direction suggest that the smoke haze may not seriously affect the neighbouring countries because of its southwards direction. Singapore recorded a Pollution Standard Index (PSI) of 76 on Tuesday, while the Malaysian Meteorological Service reported visibility of 10 kilometers in various sites in Malaysia, namely Klang Valley, Kuantan, Penang, Johor Bahru, Kuching, Labuan and Kota Kinabalu. A PSI Index of between 50 and 100 is considerate moderate. Singapore, the lead country responsible for the monitoring component of the ASEAN Regional Haze Action Plan, has been providing the satellite pictures indicating hot spot locations to Indonesia.
In January this year, ASEAN held dialogues with plantation concessionaires in Pekanbaru, Riau Province to secure their cooperation in efforts to control forest fires and haze. The dialogue was initiated by ASEAN's Haze Technical Task Force's Working Group on Subregional Firefighting Arrangement (SRFA) for Sumatra. ASEAN plans to hold a similar dialogue in Central Kalimantan involving the local community.
As part of ASEAN's efforts to develop a long-term capability to undertake fire suppression, field-training exercises for the prevention and control of land and forest fires and haze have been held in Sumatra and West Kalimantan. The UNEP Environment Assessment Programme for Asia Pacific (EAP.AP) and the Australian Government have extended technical assistance to ASEAN amounting to US$50,000 and US$173,000 respectively to implement the component in Sumatra and West Kalimantan.
ASEAN's Regional Haze Action Plan Co-ordination and Support Unit (RHAP-CSU) continuously monitors the haze situation on a day-to-day and region-wide bases and shares it findings through its website called the ASEAN Haze Action Online(http://www.haze-online.or.id).
The RHAP-CSU is linked up with monitoring stations in member countries including the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre in Singapore, the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Estate Crops in East and West Kalimantan, the National Board for Environmental Impact Control and the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) and other agencies. Information such as satellite imagery of hotspots, weather forecasts, air quality, visibility, humidity, and wind blows are monitored on a daily basis. A weekly summary of information gathered is available from the website.