By Zamzami
from Pantau Gambut

The Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya, has issued a notification to prepare preventive measures to the local governments of areas where forest fires commonly occur. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry data indicates that the burnt forest and peat area in January - March 2021 has far exceeded the total burnt area for the same period last year.

The Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya, has emphasized the importance of preparing preventive measures in areas where forest and land fires are prevalent. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) data indicates that Indonesia's forest fires between January - March 2021 have reached 23,783 hectares, which exceeds last year's figure for the same period, i.e. 19,372 hectares.

“The Ministry of Environment and Forestry will initiate detailed and in-depth monitoring of hotspots in these conventional areas. There will be significant forest and land fire dynamics or escalation till early May," stated Minister Siti Nurbaya, while chairing a technical meeting to strengthen forest and land fire prevention measures and anticipation measures in 2021, as quoted by ANTARA - Wednesday, April 28 2021.

The Riau Provincial Government has declared a forest and land fire alert status on 15 February which will remain valid until 31 October 2021. This alert status was put in effect upon detecting forest and land fires in four districts, i.e. Dumai, Siak, Bengkalis, and Rokan Hilir.

The Regional Disaster Management Agency's data indicates that at least 657.71 hectares of land have been burnt from the beginning of the year till 10 March 2021. The Riau Regional Disaster Management Agency noted that the most widespread fires occurred between January - March 2021 in Bengkalis District, i.e. covering an area of more than 200 hectares. Indragiri Hilir (122.5 hectares), Dumai (109 hectares) and Siak (72.9 hectares). Fires also occurred in the Meranti Islands District (35.5 hectares), Rokan Hilir (31 hectares), and Indragiri Hulu (25 hectares).

Low rainfall intensity has impacted the potential for forest and land fires.

The Minister's concerns were reaffirmed by the Meteorological, Climatological, and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) forecast which stated that La Nina in Indonesia will shift into ENSO neutral condition in May 2021. This means that the rainfall intensity during the dry season will fall under the “low” category, especially in Sumatra and Java. This will increase the potential for forest and land fires. BMKG stated that Riau, Jambi, and South Sumatra would have "moderate" and "high" potential for forest and land fires between June - September 2021.

BMKG Pekanbaru informed Pantau Gambut that the dry season in Riau in 2021 will be drier than the previous year. The dry season in 2020 was relatively wet. This type of climate will increases the risk of peat forest fires. The dry season will begin in May and will peak in July.

Orita, an analyst from the Pekanbaru Climatology Station UPT informed Pantau Gambut that the rainfall intensity in the western and northern parts of Riau has begun to decrease.  “The dry season is marked by a lower rainfall intensity in the western and northern parts of Riau. On the other hand, the dry season will (start) in May in almost all areas of Riau and will peak in July," she said.

However, this year's dry season is not as dry as the dry season in 2015, when massive fires occurred in forests and peatlands. Orita also explained that the wind is forecasted to not be as strong, hence the likelihood of a massive forest fire like the one in 2015 occurring is relatively low.

Anticipation for forest and land fires

As a response to the warning of possible forest and land fires, the Head of the Riau BBD Emergency Division, Jim Gafur, told Pantau Gambut that the Riau Karhutla Task Force team had been reactivated because the rainy season is predicted to start in April and ends in May. However, this does not mean the team will be off duty during the rain season, the hotspot monitoring continues.

“We have re-activated the Land and Forest Fire Task Force. They were on standby during the rain season. They will be active again in June (season transition). The hotspots (have) appeared but (after we’ve checked it) there were no fires," said Gofur in early May.

The joint task force team, with more than 5,000 members, is preparing their equipment. Three water bombing helicopters and one patrol plane on standby in Pekanbaru.  His team recently received reports of hotspots, but no fires were found during the actual monitoring.

In order to optimize managing the dry season, BPBD has also prepared a disaster-resilient village program with a focus on forest fire management. A total of 150 villages were categorized as forest fire-prone areas that year. However, this program will only prioritize 50 - 60 villages.

"God willing, (this program) will be implemented by mid-June so forest fire monitoring and management can be quickly anticipated,” added Gofur.

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