Ref: OCHA/GVA - 2000/0051
OCHA Situation Report No. 1
Indonesia - Forest Fires
14 March 2000
1. Ever since the start of the dry season at the end of February 2000, forest fires have been rapidly spreading out of control in Sumatra and West Kalimantan in Indonesia. By 5 March 2000 more than 780 hot spots had been located over Sumatra, according the Meteorological Service Singapore. Reportedly, most of the fires were triggered by illegal burning of plantations and forests for land clearance.
2. The most affected area is Riau province on the east coast of Sumatra, facing Singapore, followed by West Kalimantan province and Central Kalimantan province. According to the national authorities, in Pekanbaru, capital of Riau province, the air pollution index has registered levels high above those considered hazardous to human health. Clouds of smoke and some haze have been billowing over the area. Although recent rainfall has doused some of the fires and improved visibility, the situation is still very alarming.
3. Indonesia has experienced forest fire disasters before, the worst of which occurred in the autumn of 1997 during the dry weather fostered by El Nino, when smog affected several South East Asian countries. The disaster caused a wide range of problems including haze-related illnesses. A number of flights had to be cancelled and there were collisions at sea. The tourist industry suffered, and the destruction of forests and death of wild animals had devastating environmental consequences. After the disaster, Indonesia has taken steps to tighten up its environmental laws. In August last year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) also adopted a "zero-burning" policy and urged all countries concerned to implement the necessary laws and regulations with immediate effect in order to enforce this major decision aimed at controlling transboundary environment pollution caused by forest and land fires.
4. According to the Singapore Meteorological Service, the present dry weather is not expected to be prolonged as increased shower activities should occur in the region from time to time until May 2000. This is likely to result in an improvement in the current fire situation. During the period June to October, which is traditionally the dry Southwest Monsoon season in the region, periods of increased fire activities can be expected when dry weather conditions prevail.
5. The Indonesian Government has been monitoring the development of the disaster with the help of satellite data. The Government declared a State of Emergency on 8 March 2000 and is taking steps to halt the spread of fires by means of field operations and law enforcement. Investigations are being carried out into companies with interests in the places where the hot spots have been located. The Government has also released the amount of IDR 100 million (USD 14,000) to support the fire suppression activities, and has threatened to revoke the licenses of errant logging and plantation owners. Local authorities have advised the public to stay indoors until mid-morning when the smog thins, and have distributed cotton masks to the population of hazardous areas.
6. ASEAN has taken Fire Suppression Mobilization measures in the different districts of Riau province, in an attempt to contain the spread of forest fires and smoke haze. These mobilization measures are part of the broader Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Land and Forest Fire and Haze in the whole of Sumatra and West Kalimantan.
7. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is in close contact with the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Jakarta, Indonesia and will revert with further information if the situation warrants it.
8. No request for international assistance has been received by OCHA to date.
9. This situation report, together with further information on ongoing emergencies, is also available on the OCHA Internet Website at http://www.reliefweb.int
Telephone: +41-22-917 12 34
Fax: +41-22-917 00 23
In case of emergency only: Tel. +41-22-917 20 10
Desk Officers: Ms. S. Metzner-Strack / Mr. R. Mueller / Mr. S. Matsuka direct Tel. +41-22-917 21 44 / 31 31 / 40 34
Press contact: Mr. Donato Kiniger-Passigli, direct Tel. +41-22-917 26 53
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