DOWN TO EARTH, July 2001

Forest fires and smog are affecting several parts of Indonesia and Malaysia as the dry season begins in SE Asia. The fires are later starting than in 2000, but this year a long dry season is expected and some experts predict the return of El Nino.

A new regulation on fires was issued in Indonesia in February, at least partly due to pressure on the Indonesian authorities from international creditors led by the IMF and World Bank to take action to slow the high rate of tropical rainforest destruction in the country. Only one successful prosecution of a company resulted after the disastrous 1997 fires.

This summary of sources and articles is not comprehensive, but is intended to give an overall picture of what is happening in Indonesia.

Jakarta Post 28/Feb/2001
'.The urgency of endorsing the new forest fire regulation has been pushed by many parties, including the International Monetary Fund, since the impact of major forest fires has transboundary effects, particularly in heightening pollution. An international forest monitoring group, Forest Resources Assessment, has revealed that an estimated 1.2 million hectares of Indonesian forests were cleared annually between 1981 and 1990, accounting for 8 percent of the world's annual forest loss. It further noted that during the major fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra in 1997 about two million hectares of forest went up in smoke. (*Other sources estimate 5million ha DTE)
According to Deputy Minister on Environmental Policy Development Daniel Murdiarso, calculations by several international institutions estimate that the 1997 forest fires resulted in US$8 billion to $10 billion in health costs. "The fires eliminated one giga ton of forest carbon, which causes pollution," he said. '

For up-to-date news on the fires look at these web sites:
Fire Ecology Research Group
ASEAN haze information
Singapore pollution index or
Forest Fire Prevention and Control Project (EU-funded, Sumatra)
Integrated Forest Fires Management Project (GTZ-funded, Kalimantan)
GoI Fires & haze information tel/fax +62 21 8590494

Forest Watch Indonesia can send you NOAA satellite images from NOAA from the forest fires prevention & monitoring programme (FFPMP-JICA) starting from Jan 2001 as JPG files. The maps of hot spots have overlays of logging concessions, timber estates and agricultural plantations. Contact Togu Manurung at

See also:

7/1 Kyodo 8/1 Malaysia and Indonesia on a standard operating procedure to combat forest fires.The two countries finally signed a document on bilateral cooperation and disaster relief, three years after signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the issue.
  JP 28/2 A regulation has been issued aimed at preventing forest fires by holding forest concession holders accountable for fires breaking out in their areas, even if they are not directly responsible for the fires. State Minister of the Environment Sonny Keraf said that with Government Regulation No. 4/2001, concession holders can no longer shirk responsibility.
  AP 19/3 "We can expect dry weather in this coming year, and the dry weather will prevent showers from putting the fires down in mid-April or early May," said Emmanuel Nabet, managing director of Singapore-based satellite imaging company Spot Asia. Nabet said there were currently some brush fires burning on Sumatra, but that they weren't big enough or close enough to affect neighbouring Singapore in the next few days.
  DPA 22/3 Environmental officials from ASEAN & UNEP held their first meeting to discuss the proposed agreement in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week. The draft agreement deal with policy and technical issues involved in monitoring, preventing and mitigating transboundary haze pollution. There will be another 3 meetings this year.
29/3 Forest Watch 3/4 290 hotspots in various parts of Indonesia detected during March
  IO 1/4 Meteorological experts in Singapore predict that the dry season in SE Asia may be a long one. This may be another El Nino year (30% chance) . Smoke is expected to spread from Indonesia to Singapore with the onset of the dry season.
  SP3/4 Head of Indonesia's Nature Conservation office (Dirjen PKA Wahyudi) warned all timber companies, forest estate and plantation managers to be prepared to fight fires in their concessions this year. District administrators must also take responsibility for preventing & controlling fires.
  ST 16/5 ASEAN countries can expect drier-than-normal conditions during the second half of this year, which could lead to spells of haze, environment ministers said at a meeting in Phnom Penh to discuss greater efforts to monitor land and forest fires, prevent trans-boundary haze and strengthen law enforcement against those who harm the environment.
12/6 BP 19/6? Forestry minister Marzuki Usman said that he will cancel the permits of any logging concession holders who set fires.
2/7 ST 11/7 The Meteorological Service reported 154 hot spots, while there were few or no hot spots detected in the previous two months.
3/7 AP 5/7 Malaysian Officials Blame Indonesian Fires For Hazy Skies. Officials in KL said there wasn't any health danger, but did not disclose the current reading of the air pollution index. Minister for Science, Technology and Environment Law Hieng Ding said that 35 "hot spots" had been detected in Sumatra. Thirty more spots were reported in Malaysia's Sarawak state on Borneo.
4/7 Borneo Bulletin 4/7 Slight haze in Brunei. Possibly due to fires in Indonesia or Sarawak. Brunei's Environment Unit said that it has yet to receive data on the situation from the Meteorological Department. Meanwhile, the Meteorological Department said the latest "hotspot" map showed "hot spots" in southern and central Sumatra as well as southern Kalimantan.
5/7 7/7 JP Haze covering the city of Pontianak since last week has exceeded tolerable limits, and local officials suggested on Friday that people refrain from outdoor activities and use masks. Air contained between 1,067 micrograms and 1,494 micrograms of dust on 2/7. According to the Standard Index of Air Pollution (ISPU), the tolerable volume of dust content in the air is under 50 micrograms. More than 300 micrograms is very hazardous.
5/7 Reuters 9/7 Smog from forest fires in Sumatra has affected southern provinces of Thailand: Songkhla, Satun, Pattani, Narathivas and Yala, limiting visibility in some areas to 500 metres, officials said.
7/7 8/7 AP Smoke pollution from fires in Indonesia could hit Singapore in the next few days, weather forecasters said. Satellite photos show about 100 "hot spots" and smoke plumes in the central and northern parts of Sumatra, a forecaster at Singapore's Meteorological Service Department said
8/7 10/7 JP Pontianak: Early morning flights are delayed 2-3 hours as visibility is 100-200m. By afternoons clears to 1000m.
9/7 11/7 ST Malaysian Environment Department reported a total of 617 hot spots in Sumatra.
  10/7 AFP Pontianak: as above, but visibility figures not so bad (500m am, 5,000m pm) no delays today. Less smoke in Pekanbaru today than yesterday due to rain. Medan still affected, but flights OK and no health problems yet.
10/7 11/7 AFP Five Malaysian weather stations reported unhealthy ratings, but the government declined to release detailed air quality readings to avoid upsetting the tourist trade. Malaysia's west-coast Selangor state, surrounding the capital Kuala Lumpur, directed schools to stop all outdoor activities.
10/7 11/7 AP Singapore's Meteorological Service, which monitors fires by satellite, reported more than 150 "hotspots" in Sumatra and close to 80 in Kalimantan. "We predict that the haze levels will rise because the fires have coincided with the dry season," said Hariyadi, an official at Indonesia's Meteorological and Geophysics Agency. "There is no major rain expected."
11/7 11/7 Reuters Visibility returned to normal in most parts of southern Thailand as smoke from fires on Sumatra was blown east towards Malaysia, Thai weather officials said. Rain cleared smoke in Malaysia.
  11/7 AFP Authorities in W.Kalimantan have donated thousands of face masks to residents. Early morning motorists have already begun wearing face masks. Visibility only about 100 meters at 7am, but improved to two km by late morning. The haze normally worsens again at around 5:00 pm. Local administrators have warned residents to stay indoors from late afternoon until early morning.
11/7 JP Ministry of Forestry said on Tuesday it had yet to formulate a program to tackle the fires. MU cited the lack of human resources and funds as reasons behind the ministry's failure to anticipate and cope with the problem. The ministry had yet to receive some Rp 140 billion (US$12.2 million) in reforestation funds this year to handle forest fires, Marzuki said.
  11/7 Reuters "We will bring in a fire brigade from west Australia to do an assessment because we still don't have a good (fire management) system," Usman told reporters. "We may also rent a water bomber from Australia." Forest Preservation and Natural Conservation office had counted 117 "hot spots" in North Sumatra, 112 in Riau and 53 in West Sumatra provinces this week, compared with almost none last month.
12/7 AFP Thick smoke continues to envelop Pontianak, although few hotspots detected on satelitte images. Experts blame subterranean fires in layers of peat.
12/7 13/7 ST For the first time in two months, Singapore's Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) rose to 58. So far, PSI level for this month has not exceeded 50, except for July 6, when it hit 51.
13/7 ST Singapore's Meteorological Service Department said PSI had risen to 65. Environment experts from Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei will go to Jakarta next week. Officials played down concerns that the fires could cause similar problems to 1997.
25-8/7 CIFOR via WALHI 7/2 International Conference on Community Based Fire Management to be held in Indonesia in July 2001. Follow-up from the International Workshop by Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific (RECOFTC) and Project Firefight South East Asia (PFFSEA), Bangkok, December 2000.

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