By Ainur Rohmah
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has hailed the government’s success in preventing forest fires this year, after last year’s flames resulted in haze spreading across Southeast Asia.
"The reports I received were very nice, ‘hot spots’ fell significantly by 74 percent compared to last year," he was quoted by kompas.com as saying at his office Friday.
Every year, vast tracts of peatland are cleared on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo using illegal slash-and-burn methods to make way for palm oil and paper plantations.
The fires last year resulted in the deaths of at least 19 people, while more than 500,000 others in six provinces suffered acute respiratory infections.
The smog-belching flames had produced a blanket of haze that spread into Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand and the southern Philippines.
In March, an Indonesian minister announced that the government had begun taking early measures in preparation for the dry season.
Despite the reduced threat of forest fires, Widodo stressed Friday the need to remain cautious as 217 hot spots were detected across three provinces.
He underlined that August through October would be a critical period with the dry season expected to reach its peak in September.
He instructed ministries, local governments and relevant institutions to contribute to preventing the spread of any forest fires as early as possible.
"There is a reward and punishment [for those responsible for fires]," he added.
The president also expressed appreciation for those who cooperated in preventing disasters.
“There are some provinces that involve the community in joint patrols, it was very nice," he said.
National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told Anadolu Agency that as of January, satellite imagery detected 10,174 hot spots in Indonesia -- down from 129,813 during the same period last year.
"Until now, the standard index of air pollution in Sumatra and Kalimantan [on Borneo] showed moderate to good. The visibility is normal so no school activities or flights were closed due to the smoke," he said.
Last year’s haze had resulted in the suspension of classes and disruption of work and flights in some areas.
Dozens of aircraft and thousands of personnel were involved in firefighting efforts, including planes from Singapore, Malaysia, Russia and Australia.
The fires had burned an area of more than 2.6 hectares, causing losses of around 221 trillion rupiah (more than $15 billion).
According to Nugroho, the damage this year was limited due to improved prevention efforts, as well as rains accompanying the La Nina cool weather phenomenon.
When fires broke out in past months, thousands of police, army and rescue personnel were mobilized, with the disaster management agency also deploying dozens of helicopters and water bomber aircraft to battle the flames.
Currently, five provinces on alert for fires have declared emergency status.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.