By Bambang Purwanto
JAKARTA, June 27 (Xinhua) -- While fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, Indonesia now has also to face land and forest fires as this year's droughts are coming even earlier.
Almost in every dry season Indonesia is hit by land and forest fires which produce thick smog, causing lung problems, bronchitis, asthma, heart disease, sore throats and eye irritations.
The natural disaster has also disturbed operations of public transportation due to the very short visibility caused by the thick smokes, forcing schools to suspend teaching and learning activities.
The Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency reported that 17 percent of the dry season in the country occurred in April, 38 percent in May, 27 percent in June, and the rest could happen in July, August and September this year.
In anticipating the recurrence of the calamity, the Indonesian government has been making anticipatory preparations to face the droughts in the current dry season which has started since April and may end in September this year.
Land and forest fires in Indonesia occur mostly due to human behaviors like slash and burn practices as well as disposal of smoking butts onto bushes especially on peatlands. Those conducts are punishable by law in Indonesia.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has asked law enforcers to take stern measures against persons who are found to commit such unlawful conducts without any compromise.
"We know 99 percent of land and forest fires are caused by human behaviors. Thus, a strong law enforcement is needed without compromise in a bid to contain the problem," the president said at this week's limited cabinet meeting discussing land and forest fires.
The president has called on ministers, governors, district heads, mayors, military and police commanders to take quick measures in anticipation of land and forest fires during droughts which are expected to be drier than the normal condition in this year's dry season.
The Indonesian national police informed that there had been 69 people declared as suspects involved in the land and forest fires from January 1 to June 21.
National police spokesman Awi Setiyono said of the 69 suspects, 58 come from Riau province, two from Jambi province, seven from Central Kalimantan province and two from Bangka Belitung province.
"The suspects and the evidence have been submitted to the prosecutor's office," Setiyono said, adding that the total areas of land and forest fires in the country reach 261.48 hectares with Riau province having the largest areas of 242.16 hectares.
In response to the president's call, Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar said the government has been anticipating potentials of land and forest fires that usually occur in August and September.
"We have studied the climate, hotspots and the time of forest fires which usually occur in the second and third weeks of August until the first week of September," she said in Jakarta recently.
There are two critical phases of land and forest fires in the northern part of Sumatra island including the provinces of Riau, Aceh and North Sumatra, the minister said, adding that the first phase occurs in March and April, while the second would be in June and July before reaching the peak in August and September.
She said her ministry will use weather modification technology to make artificial rains based on the analysis of the Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency and the technology will be applied by the Assessment and Application Technology Agency in cooperation with the Air Force.
The minister pointed out that related institutions have conducted weather modifications in several areas including those in Sumatra island.
The minister hoped the weather modification would be effective as the artificial rains would pour waters onto peatlands and bushes which are prone to land and forest fires.
Last year, smokes produced by land and forest fires in Indonesia reached neighboring countries including Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Bambang Hero Saharjo, a professor with the Forestry Faculty of the Bogor Institute of Agriculture in West Java, called on all the stakeholders to prepare facilities and infrastructures in anticipation of land and forest fires during the dry seasons in 2020.
Before extinguishing fires, the fund allocated for the land and forest fires mitigation should be used for preventive measures to ensure that there are no hotspots which could likely develop into huge flames, the professor said at a recent discussion in Jakarta.
The Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency also called on the stakeholders and people to remain aware of the drought seasons which may come earlier in certain areas including those in Bali, Nusa Tenggara, West Java and Central Java.
The agency also reminded that droughts would be drier than the normal condition in certain areas including those in Aceh, North Sumatra, Riau, Lampung, Banten and West Java. Enditem