Fidelis E. Satriastanti
The Environment Ministry is investigating eight plantation companies in Sumatra for allegedly clearing nearly 4,000 hectares of forest using slash-and-burn methods.
Arief Yuwono, the minister’s deputy for environmental damage control and climate change, said on Sunday that the companies were believed to have burned down more than 3,800 hectares of forest.
“Two of the companies are in Riau, four are in South Sumatra and two are in Aceh,” he said.
He added that the ministry was also investigating some local officials involved in issuing permits to the companies.
The investigation comes as the Environment Ministry prioritizes measures to prevent haze as a result of forest fires on the island and particularly in Riau, which is set to host the 18th National Games in September.
Purwasto Saroprayogi, head of the ministry’s forest fire monitoring department, said the areas of top priority were Pelalawan and Rokan Hilir districts in Riau.
“We’re giving priority to these two regions because the number of forest fire hot spots detected there is quite high,” Purwasto said.
He added that there was a risk of more fires spreading in the province because of the hot spots.
He said that under the ministry’s Fire Danger Rating System, officials now had a better understanding of how the fires were spreading.
“Whereas before we could only monitor once every seven days, now we can do it once every three days,” Purwasto said.
As of July 15, there were 2,643 hot spots detected in Riau this year, or more than half of the 4,876 detected across Indonesia by a US satellite. South Sumatra accounted for 1,180 hot spots, while West Kalimantan had 1,053.
In Riau, most of the hot spots were concentrated in Pelalawan district, with 527, followed by Bengkalis and Rokan Hilir.
Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya warned that the number of fires would increase as the dry season continued, fanned in part by the “El Nino” phenomenon in October.
“Based on the information from the FDRS and predictions of decreased rainfall, there will be a high potential of forest fires in the eight most prone provinces of North and South Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, and [all of] Kalimantan,” he said as quoted by environmental website MongaBay.co.id.