DOWN TO EARTH, March 2000

This year the first news reports of forest fires arrived early March. This is several weeks earlier than in previous years.

For up-to-date news on the fires look at these web sites:





(Asia Pulse 13/3/00)

ASEAN Haze Task Force held dialogue with plantation concessionaires in Riau to secure co-operation and prevent fires.

End Feb

(Sripos 9/3/00)

NOAA satellite detects 7 'hot spots' in S. Sumatra


(SP 4/3/00)

90 hot spots in northern Sumatra.


(ST 4/3/00)

299 hot spots in Sumatra.


(ST 4/3/00

137 fires in Riau.

Thick haze over Pekanbaru.

Garuda flight diverted to Medan.

Senior forestry official blamed plantation owners.


(SP 4/3/00)

296 hot spots in northern Sumatra.

At least 100 in Riau, Jambi and Bengkulu.

Visibility down to 250m in Pekanbaru in the mornings.

Singapore Environment Ministry sent satellite picture of hot spots to authorities in Jakarta (Env. Impact Management Agency BAPEDAL)


(ST 6/3/00)

Head of (Riau) Dept of Estate Crops met 45 companies and asked them to check if fires are on their land.


(AP 5/3/00)

Singapore and Malaysia "expecting some slightly hazy conditions" according to Singapore Met Office.

PSI = 49 (below 50 = good; above 100 = unhealthy).


(SP 8/3/00)

Singapore Environment Ministry identified 400 hot spots in central Sumatra


(Sripos 10/3/00)

23 hot spots in Jambi, mostly in plantation and forest concession areas. Governor orders emergency posts to be set up


(Dow Jones 8/3/00)

Singapore Environment Minister sent letter of concern to Indonesia about 'haze' from forest fires.

Singapore PSI = 65 by mid afternoon.


(JP 9/3/00)

Government discusses fires at Cabinet meeting. President Wahib instructed cabinet ministers to take action (reported on BBC after meeting Malaysian Prime Minister in Jakarta).

Environment Minister states fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan are a national disaster and pledges firm action against logging and plantation companies.

515 hot spots in Riau. Visibility in Kampar 500m; PSI = 313 i.e. well above the 'unhealthy' level.


(SP 10/3/00)

President instructed ministers to summon companies and take firm action where necessary.

Environment Minister reported over 1,000 hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Riau local government has set up integrated investigative teams that have started field work. A similar team should be set up at national level next week.


(MI 8/3/00)

212 hot spots in Riau Bengkalis 100

Kampar 83

Indragiri Hilir 25

Indragiri Hulu 4

Only those nearest to Pekanbaru have been investigated.

Said to be worst nearest the city.

Local Env Agency said the "culprits were the same as last year" and named PT Adei Plantation Industri, PT Musim Mas and PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa -3 of the 14 companies named last year.

NB. Only PT Torganda and Cipta Daya taken to court for last year's fires. The case against the former was dismissed; in the latter, 3 employees were imprisoned for a few days see Republika/PaSe Jan. piece


(SP 10/3/00)

Evidence against Riau companies (photos and videos) shown to Secretary General of Forestry Dept., Soeripto, who visited Pekanbaru


(AFP 10/3/00)

Visibility in Pekanbaru below 500m. But 'no marked increase in respiratory patients' says local hospital.


(SP 8/3/00)

"Second level alert" issued for several provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Fires Management Director at BAPEDAL said 60% of fires were on plantations.

In Riau, 3 out of 10 companies involved in fires were Malaysian. The Malaysian authorities have been asked to take action against them.

Pekanbaru visibility down to 800m in mornings; pollution index = 327.

Emergency posts already being set up in some badly affected areas.

Singapore PSI = 66.

Malaysian authorities have stopped releasing pollution figures "to prevent journalists from stirring up trouble"


(SP 8/3/00)

708 hot spots in W. Kalimantan.


(ST 11/3/00)

564 hot spots in Riau


(K 11/3/00)

17 hot spots in Jambi


(Mimbar 9/3/00 & MI 10/3/00)

Outbreaks of fire (mostly small in W. Sumatra including Padang University experimental forestry plot.


(Walhi Kalteng)

Fires reported in Zone C of former Mega Rice Project Area and around Palangkaraya. "Town farmers" thought responsible for the latter.


(SCMP 8/3/00)

Wetter weather expected late March/April should help put most fires out. More serious haze expected May/June in Singapore.


(MI 10/3/00)

Quite thick smoke over Jambi city, but air and river traffic not affected.


(BBC 9/3/00)

Correspondent describes situation in Riau as 'apocalyptic'. 400 hot spots around Pekanbaru. Visibility 150-200m. Authorities issuing smog masks.


(JP 10/3/00)

Situation 'more or less under control', but fears that it will worsen once dry season starts in April.

UNEP expressed concerns that fires could be as bad as 1997-8.


(MI 10/3/00)

Head of National Disasters Agency, Basri Hasanuddin called on logging companies in Sumatra and Kalimantan to take preventative action. Also told local government to get smoke masks and medical supplies ready.


(K 11/3/00)

Some rain in Riau. Smoke thicker. Visibility in Pekanbaru under 300m.

Fires spreading in C. Kalimantan, especially along main roads to Palangkaraya.

W. Kalimantan governor wages more action against those causing fires. Visibility in Pontianak under 500m.

Fires still burning in W. Sumatra, mainly in Solok and Pasaman areas.


(IO 10/3/00)

Forestry officials name 4 plantation companies causing fires in Riau: PT Adei Plantation; PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa; PT Musi Mas, PT Inti Indosawit and promise prosecutions.

Few people wear smog masks despite pollution index over 200 in Pekanbaru: 'Life is normal'.


(SP 11/3/00)

Head of W. Kalimantan Plantations Dept promises firm action against companies causing fires.


(AFP 10/3/00)

58 hot spots, 23 near Pontianak.


(AFP 10/3/00)

S.E. Asian environment ministers to meet in Brunei April 4th re fires.

ASEAN says it has put 'fire suppression measures' into operation in Riau.


(AFP 10/3/00)

Indonesian Foreign Minister says 'haze' will not affect relations with Malaysia. Malaysian plantation company PT Adei reported to have burnt 1,500ha in Riau.


(AFP 11/3/00)

UNEP (Bangkok) praised Indonesia's move to prosecute forest and plantation companies for fires. Drew attention to the high pollution index (over 300) in Sumatra and Kalimantan.


(BBC 10/3/00)

Biodiversity export Dr. Norman Myers warns of grave threat from forest fires to Indonesian's endangered species.


(ST 11/3/00)

Authorities have identified at least 10 companies responsible for Riau fires, but difficult to prosecute due to lack of evidence according to BAPEDAL official. E.g. PT Adei blames its contractor. Also companies blame locals. Thick smoke hampered helicopter survey. Only 20 hot spots detected.


(AFP 11/3/00)

Heavy rains douse fires in Sumatra. Strong winds disperse smoke over Riau. Visibility in Pekanbaru = 6km. Only one hot spot detected. Smoke still drifting towards Malaysia and Singapore and W. Sumatra (visibility in Padang = 2km).


(K 13/3/00)

Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei have complained to Indonesia.

Riau on Grade I forest fires alert: now only 97 hot spots.

W. Sumatra on Grade II : 10 hot spots.


(SCMP 11/3/00)

Indonesia's neighbours sent in fire fighters to train local crews.

Asthma Association of Singapore advises sufferers to stay indoors.

In Pekanbaru, government workers issued masks to public.

33 hot spots in Borneo : 18 in W. Kalimantan; 5 in C. Kalimantan;

8 in Sarawak; 2 in Sabah.


(WALHI press statement;
JP 13/3/00)

Risk of large-scale forest fires not so great this year because La Nina effect is peaking, so much rain expected. But fires symptomatic of unhealthy forest management policy. Calls for rationalisation of timber processing industry and moratorium on large-scale plantations.


(Mimbar 15/3/00)

W. Sumatra: 53 hot spots. Local government asks Jakarta for help. Head of local Environmental Agency blames remoteness and lack of equipment for increase. Deputy governor blames 'copy cat' burning.


(K 13/3/00)

Disasters Co-ordination Minister Basri Hasanuddin visits W. Sumatra and calls on village heads to warn forest and plantation concessionaires about burning.


(AFP 13/3/00)

Singapore urges Indonesia to punish companies allegedly responsible for forest fires.

Singapore air quality not badly affected by haze due to wind direction.


(ST 13/3/00)

Singapore Environment Minister says Indonesia intends to prosecute 4 plantation companies in Riau (see IO 10/3/00 for probable names).

Singapore PSI down to 42 from 60 at weekend.


(Asia Pulse 13/3/00)

Indonesian government has released Rp100 million (under US $15,000) to support fire suppression measures.


(BBC 13/3/00)

Situation improved in Sumatra after several days rain, but worse in West Kalimantan. Government officials handing out smog masks.


(Reuters 13/3/00)

Pontianak PSI over 500 (300 = hazardous). Smoke worst 10pm dawn.

Airport can only operate after 10am when smog clears.


(SP 13/3/00)

Head of Environment Agency in W. Kalimantan urges plantation companies to stop burning to clear land.

Number of respiratory cases in Pontianak's main hospital has increased sharply in past 10 days.


(JP 14/3/00)

Heavy rain doused over two thirds of the 1,064 hot spots in Sumatra. Visibility 5km. Pekanbaru PSI dropped to 60 from 125 at weekend.

Air traffic to Pontianak seriously disrupted by smoke.


(JP 15/3/00)

Government sets up forest fire enforcement team to consist of police, Attorney Gen's office and Environment Agency aided by National Aeronautics and Space Institute (LAPAN).

West Kalimantan : thick haze dawn-dusk. Increase in hospital admissions with respiratory problems.

Air pollution index Pontianak = 1,030 ; 708 hot spots, mostly in oil palm plantations.

West Sumatra : haze bad. 800 ha forests and plantations burned.

Riau : overnight rain has eased the problem.


(Sripo 14/3/00)

Jambi governor admits some plantation companies are burning concession areas by night. Forest area in Jambi has reduced to one-tenth in 11 years. Illegal logging in National Park Berbak.


(JP 17/3/00)

Environment Minister admits Indonesia has relied on rains to put out forest fires so far and promises to send out fire fighting teams soon.

Head of Directorate of Forest Fires, Antung Deddy, blamed lack of funding and staff for lack of action.


(Article in BI via WALHI 17/3/00 source not given)

Department of Forestry & Plantations are now responsible for operations to prevent and put out fires. Environment Ministry responsible for detecting fires and issuing warnings.

Environment Ministry has set up "Fires Co-ordination Posts", is implementing ASEAN's Regional Haze Action Plan and has trained 54 environmental investigators.


(AFP 17/3/00)

GoI plans to set up law enforcement team to deal with fires cases, headed by police with members from Environment Ministry, Environment Agency and attorney general's office.



Muslim holiday, Idul Adha, hence few news reports for several days.


(ST 17/3/00)

Report on "flurry of announcements" from GoI recently. Forestry Minister promised responsible companies would be caught in 2 weeks. Environment Minister gave 3 months deadline for prosecutions. He admits lack of co-ordination in monitoring and fighting fires and blames Department of Forestry for lack of action. No single authority is responsible until GoI declares a National Emergency. Ex-Environment Agency head blames local governors and mayors for not pressing companies to fight fires.


(AFP 17/3/00)

World Association of Crude Oil Importers has threatened to boycott Indonesian palm oil unless GoI takes action on fires.

Environment Minister names 3 Indonesian-Malaysian joint venture plantation companies: PT Adei; PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, PT Multi Gambut where fires occurred in Riau are to be investigated.


(JP 18/3/00)

PT Inti Indo Sawit in Riau announces it extinguished fires on its plantation land caused by local farmers.


(GFMC Website)

Meteorological Service Singapore "Cloudy and wet conditions over Southern Kalimantan and most parts of Sumatra. The region is generally clear of smoke haze".


(MI 21/3/00)

Fires problem diminishing in Kalimantan and disasters says minister in charge of disasters Basri Hasanuddin. Only 21 hot spots. Environment Minister is discussing fires with 4 neighbouring countries.

Health official said local clinics had coped with all cases of chest infections, asthma etc caused by smog.

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