Haze Situation and Impacts
As reported by the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) in Singapore, following a short period of drier weather over Sumatra and the region towards the last week of February 2000, an increasing number of forest fires and resulting smoke haze were observed in the Riau Province of Sumatra in early March 2000. The table below shows a significant increase in hotspot counts since the beginning of March. On 5 March 2000, hotspot counts reached a peak of 781 over Sumatra. Rainfall in most parts of Sumatra was below average in February 2000. Conditions became drier over central Sumatra towards the end of February and continued into the first week of March and resulted in the significant increase in forest fires over the area.
Source: ASMC - Singapore
Indonesia's Environmental Impact Management Agency (BAPEDAL) also reported a significant increase in hotspot counts during the period of end February to mid March 2000. On 28 February 2000, 34 hotspots were observed in Riau, 10 hotspots in North Sumatra, 7 hotspots in West Sumatra, and 6 hotspots in West Kalimantan. On 5 March 2000, hotspot counts reached the highest level in Sumatra and Kalimantan, with Riau and North Sumatra provinces having the highest counts. This increasing number of hotspots coincided with the end of rainy season in end February.
BAPEDAL has indicated that on 28 February 2000 the air quality in Riau was categorised as "not healthy" (Indonesia's Air Pollution Index standard or ISPU = 103.64), and on 6 March 2000 the air pollution level passed the hazardous level (ISPU = 301.91). The thick smoke haze covered the area early in the day and dissipated only in mid-morning. As a result, on 5-6 March 2000, flight schedules were postponed up to 09:00 a.m. as the visibility before that hour was below 1 km. As reported by the Strait Times on 7 March 2000, schools were opened late, children were kept indoors, and people were asked to put on protection masks. A reading higher than 300 on Indonesia's Air Pollution Index standard is regarded as "hazardous". Normal, healthy air has a rate below 50.
On 7 March 2000, the Borneo Bulletin reported that smoke haze was already blowing toward Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. Singapore's Pollution Standard Index (PSI) stood at 76 on that day (07:00 p.m.). A PSI reading of 50 or below is considered "good", while higher than 50 is "moderate" and higher than 100 is "unhealthy". On 8 March, the Indonesia's government declared forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan a national disaster. Indonesia's Environment Minister Sony Keraf indicated that forest concessionaires holders (HPH) could loose their licenses if they are found guilty of deliberately starting the fires. The new cabinet, which met in the morning, had decided to summon the HPH companies, revoking their licenses if there is enough evidence. Singapore Environment Minister Lee Yock Suan sent a letter to his Indonesian counterpart to express Singapore's concern over the worsening haze situation in the region. Singapore's PSI at 7 p.m. on the day was 68. Based on the map provided by ASMC, hotspots and smoke haze were observed in Central Sumatra and Borneo, and slight haze occurred in Singapore (8 March 2000, 6 p.m.).
On 7 and 8 March 2000, ASEAN Secretariat received information that fires had been detected via hotspot maps in three (3) provinces of Sumatra, namely: Riau, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, and two (2) provinces of Kalimantan, namely West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan. Smoke haze had been detected in Riau (Sumatra) and Central Kalimantan. Indonesian authority had set Level II (medium risk) as the risk level for current condition. The forestry command posts at central as well as local levels had been fully operated to work from 07:00 to 17:00 hours daily. The air quality index in Riau was classified as unhealthy, and the visibility was less than 1 km. On 9 March 2000 the visibility in Pekanbaru, Riau, and Pontianak, West Kalimantan, was very poor (about 3 km and 2 km, respectively). The EU-FFPCP website indicates that on 10 March 2000, hotspot were detected in three (3) provinces of Sumatra, namely: Riau, North Sumatra, West Sumatra.
Toward the weekend, the haze situation over Sumatra gradually improved. BAPEDAL reported that hotspot counts in Sumatra decreased on 9 March 2000, and in Kalimantan on 10 March 2000, due to increasing rainfalls at certain fires locations. As reported by the Star on 12 March 2000, Sumatra experienced heavy rains over the weekend, improving visibility and clearing the thick haze that had covered parts of the region. Based on the map provided by the ASMC dated 13 March 2000, 6 p.m., few isolated hotspots were observed in central Sumatra, and hotspots were not observed in Kalimantan due to the wet and very cloudy condition. The Straits Times Interactive on 13 March 2000 reported that two days of heavy rain had cleared the haze from forest and ground fires in Riau, and on early 12 March, early morning visibility in Riau's main city of Pekanbaru improved to 5 km early from 300 m two days earlier. On 13 March 2000, the ASEAN Secretariat received information that the visibility condition constantly improved up to about 10 km in Pekanbaru and 6 km in Pontianak. Air quality readings in Pekanbaru and Pontianak were 48 and 49, respectively (13 March 2000, 10 a.m.).
As indicated below, on 21 March 2000 (6:00 p.m.), cloudy and wet conditions over many parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan were observed, and the region remained generally clear of smoke haze and hotspots. ASMC reported that increased shower activities can be expected in the region from time to time until May 2000. This is likely to result in an improvement in the current fire situation. From June to October 2000, which is traditionally the dry SW Monsoon season in the region, periods of increased fire activities can be expected. However, these periods are likely to be interrupted by periodic occurrences of widespread showers in the region.
Source: ASMC - Singapore
Recent Actions Taken by Indonesia and ASEAN
Recent actions taken by Indonesia, among others, are:
February 2000, Riau: BAPEDALWIL and the Governor's office via BAPEDALDA sent warning (through leaflets and radios) to the public that the dry season might come earlier than expected. They also requested the public to be extra careful in using fires. It seemed that there was no appropriate response from the public.
6 March 2000, Riau: Local key government agencies (Kanwil Dephutbun/ Provincial MoFEC, Dinas Kehutanan/ Provincial Forest Service, Dinas Perkebunan/ Plantation Service, BAPEDALDA and BAPEDALWIL) held a co-ordination meeting, in which they agreed to have field observation (ground checking). They found that at least one plantation company had burnt its lands. BAPEDALWIL and BAPEDALDA along with the local police decided to conduct an investigation.
6 and 7 March 2000: The Director of Forest and Estate Crops Fire Control, Ministry of Forestry and Estate Crops (MoFEC), sent warning letters directly to forest concessionaires, timber plantation, and estate crops, where hotspots may be originated.
7 March 2000: The Director, along with the MoFEC Secretary-General and officials from Directorate of Forest Fire BAPEDAL, departed to Riau to hold meetings with Governor and related agencies in the province. They had instructed the relevant local agencies to take every possible action to put out the fires and exercise legal action.
7 March 2000: The MoFEC Secretary-General principally agreed to disburse 100 million Rupiah as an on-call budget to Riau to assist the fire control efforts.
8 March 2000: It was confirmed that the on-call budget (Rp 100 million) had been received.
8 March 2000: Indonesia declared fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan as a national disaster. Indonesia's government warned the concession holders and plantation companies that their licenses could be revoked if they are found guilty of deliberately starting the fires.Responding to Singapore's Environment Minister Lee Yock Suan's letter, Indonesia's Environment Minister Sony Keraf gave assurance that the government was taking comprehensive measures to address the situation, including strengthening national strategy in controlling land and forest fires, mobilising resources in the areas where hotspots were detected, and sending law enforcement team to investigate the companies involved. The team, which will consist of (among others) representatives from police, the Attorney's General Office, BAPEDAL, will be given a full authority to investigate and collect data about any party who set fires to clear the land.
Recent actions taken by ASEAN, among others, are as follows:
Singapore as the lead country for monitoring component under the RHAP has been providing satellite pictures indicating hotspot locations to Indonesia. Recently, Singapore has also provided higher-resolution pictures that could pinpoint hot spot sites within 20 m.
In April 1999, 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.
In January 2000, ASEAN held its first dialogue with plantation concessionaires in Pekanbaru, Riau Province to secure their co-operation 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 concessionaires as well as the local community.
ASEAN has put into operation its Fire Suppression Mobilisation measures in the districts of Riau Province, Indonesia to contain the spread of forest fires and smoke haze. These mobilisation measures are 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 are being implemented 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. Follow-up activities in Riau Province to further strengthen the local government's capacity in preventing and mitigating fires are being formulated. Assistance from the other ASEAN countries and a donor funding agency will be provided to complement and support the activities.
ASEAN, with the assistance of UNEP, is now formulating its single agreement on transboundary atmospheric pollution, which will help to prevent, control and mitigate transboundary haze pollution through concerted and co-operative national and regional action, while taking into account the relevant circumstances and socio-economic conditions of individual states.
ASEAN will be holding the 15th Meeting of the ASOEN Haze Technical Task Force, and the 5th Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Environment on 3 and 4 April 2000 respectively in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam.
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).
Newspapers' clippings compiled in the ASEAN Haze Action Online (www.haze-online.or.id) starting 7 March 2000, such as Borneo Bulletin, Kompas, Indonesian Observer, The Jakarta Post, Media Indonesia, Republika, Riau Pos, The Straits Times, The Star.
Related links in the Haze Action Online, such as ASMC (www.gov.sg/metsin/hazed.html), BAPEDAL (www.bapedal.go.id/kebakaran), EU-FFPCP (www.mdp.co.id/ffpcp.htm).
Information from Indonesia's relevant agencies, such as BAPEDAL, BAPEDALWIL Riau, Ministry of Forestry and Estate Crops.
Report prepared by RHAP-CSU
As of 22 March 2000