President Jokowi warns of setting forest and land fires amid the pandemic

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President Joko Widodo requests Central and Regional Governments to anticipate forest and land fires properly. (Photo: Prive. Doc)

IO – In response to the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics (Badan Meteorologi Klimatologi dan Geofisika – “BMKG”) report that dry season will endure this year, President Joko Widodo has instructed Central and Regional Governments to anticipate forest and land fires. The recent BMKG report shows that 17% of Indonesia started to experience a dry season in April, 38% entered the dry season in May, and 27% in June. “Amid our attempt to mitigate the pandemic, we must not forget that we also have a big task of anticipating forest and land fires. The dry season in most of this zone will start in August. We still have at least a month to prepare,” Jokowi declared, during a closed meeting held on Tuesday (23/06/2020). 

Jokowi stated that practically all forest fires that occur in our country every year are caused by human action. Only a few forest and land fires are purely natural. “Some are accidental, others are caused by carelessness. However, some fires are actually deliberate, usually for the purpose of clearing land. No matter how they start, we must never wait until the fire grows out of control before we start to extinguish it. No matter how small a new fire starts, we must respond as quickly as possible to it,” he said. 

The President therefore orders regional officials – governors, regents, mayors, Regional Chiefs of Police, Regional Army Commanders, etc. to respond quickly to any and all threat of forest and land fires. He further requests them to ban any practice that destroys the environment and damages the welfare of the people. Other than destroying forest resources, forest fires also cause thick smog that arouse respiratory and visual ailments among the people. 

The President further reminds all that field management of forest fire anticipation must be consolidated and coordinated properly. One of the ways they can anticipate fires and coordinate better is by using technology to improve monitoring; for example, by using the dashboard system. “I noticed the other day in Riau, how the Regional Police of Riau gives an excellent example that I have seen myself. They use a technology that allows them to see a highly-detailed situation in the field. I believe that if we can do this with all of the fire-prone areas, monitoring will be much easier,” he said. 

Forest and Land Fire Task Force 

As per Jokowi’s order, the Provincial Government of South Kalimantan takes forest and land fire mitigation every year seriously. This year, the Provincial Government has established a Forest and Land Fire Prevention Task Force. Its personnel are a mix of members of the Regional Police Force of South Kalimantan and District Military Command 101 Antasari. Governor of South Kalimantan Sahbirin Noor said that by establishing the Task Force, he is declaring himself to be firm in prosecuting persons who set fires, in line with standing law. “We would punish them firmly. Controlling forest and land fires is our joint responsibility,” he said in his written statement on 12 June 2020. 

Other than implementing legal action against forest burners, the Forest and Land Fire Prevention Task Force also educates the people on the dangers of forest and land fires. Therefore, everyone should take an active role and participate in preventing, mitigating, and minimizing forest and land fires. “Forest and land fire control will not be effective, let alone optimal, without the participation and strong commitment from all stakeholders,” he said. 

Early Prevention 

Based on BMKG’s analysis and recommendation, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry performs an early prevention effort by engineering the number of rainy days in order to obtain sufficient moisturizing of peat lands that are vulnerable to burning using Weather Modification (“WMT”) Technology in provinces prone to forest and land fires. Rainy days are engineered by optimizing existing rain clouds. This scientific operation is proven to be able to increase the volume of water dropped onto forest and land fires. It is also used to fill in canals and reservoirs. 

According to BMKG, the dry season in 2020 started in June and will hit its peak in August. “Alhamdulillah, praised be Allah, with scientific technology-based prevention efforts, vulnerable areas such as Riau, South Sumatra, and Jambi Provinces can pass through the First Critical Phase of forest and land fires this year. We must make a small sacrifice by engineering rainfall days earlier in order to moisturize the peat, as well as filling in reservoirs and canals. This is because it is very important to prevent forest and land fires from threatening the people, especially during the Corona pandemic,” said Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya on Monday (15/06/2020). 

To repeat, the provinces most vulnerable to forest and land fires and require mitigation are Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, and East Kalimantan. “We are usually rather concerned about the weather in June. We are slightly relieved for now, but we remain alert for the Second Critical Phase at the peak of the dry season in August. Everyone must remain vigilant,” Siti said. 

Chairwoman of BMKG Dwikorita Karnawati stated during a meeting with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry that the weather and climate must be considered thoroughly when operating WMT. Potential growth of rain clouds in Riau and South Sumatra, as well as moisture level, will continuously diminish from the end of June to July. Moisture in Sumatra in general will decrease, making it harder and harder for convective clouds to grow as days go by. On the contrary, potential cloud growth in Kalimantan will increase. “The Riau, Jambi, and South Sumatra regions have practically no opportunity for rain in the third decade of June and first decade of July. Therefore, we do not recommend WMT in July. We are prioritizing non-WMT methods of forest and land fire prevention and mitigation,” she said.(dan)