Indonesia Battles Forest Fires as SE Asia Chokes on Smoke

ASEAN warns of elevated risk of fires thanks to El Nino weather system

Mon 02 Oct 23


Firefighters are rushing to extinguish forest fires across Indonesia, with the scorching weather in the Southeast Asian nation worsened by an El Nino dry spell and set to peak this month.

As of Friday, 44 wildfires in southern Sumatra have now been extinguished, according to the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, “with extensive water bombing operations now underway to put out the rest.”

In August, Wood Central revealed that Indonesia was at higher risk of forest fire due to El Nino.

According to ASEAN, the weather pattern brings drier weather and increased forest fire and haze risk throughout Oceania and Southeast Asia.

Maps show impacts of El Nino by season (Photo Credit: NOAA).

The most destructive impact over Indonesia is from June to October -with threatens to dent pulp, paper and coffee production in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s weather agency (BMKG) warned that more than two-thirds of the country, including Java and parts of Sumatra, essential coffee, pulp and paper-producing areas, are already impacted.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth-largest coffee export market, ranked sixth and eighth for global pulp and paper products.

Firefighters aim to finish extinguishing forest and land fires in Central Kalimantan — the Indonesian portion of Borneo — over the next two to three days, mainly as some incidents occurred near a road and a school, the Environment Ministry said yesterday. 

As it stands, more than 147 hot spots are identified as medium to high severity in the province.

According to the BMKG, forest and land fires will likely persist, with “little to no recent rainfall in many parts of the archipelago.”

In response to the billowing fire risk, the government is implementing cloud seeding to induce rain to keep the peat wet and fill reservoirs needed for water bombing.

In preparation for the expected dry season, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) has invested in three new water bombing helicopters to assist in fighting wildfires across its South Sumatra estates. (Photo Credit: Supplied by APP)

Smoke from fires is a recurring problem in Southeast Asia, disrupting tourism and costing local economies billions of dollars. It usually originates from natural or artificial fires in Indonesia and neighbouring Malaysia, such as when conditions are dry, and lands are cleared for plantation crops.

Malaysia has blamed the current fires in Indonesia for haze and worsening air pollution in western parts of the country.

Hot spot clusters in southern Sumatra and Jambi continue to release moderate to thick smoke that’s blown toward the northwest, while hot spots in parts of Kalimantan are producing thick smoke plumes, which can cause haze in Sarawak, according to the Malaysian Environment Department’s director, Wan Abdul Latiff Wan Jaffar.

The department said it has increased enforcement and daily monitoring of areas at risk of fires and has reminded the public not to do any burning or allow burning on their land.

According to an AFP report on Saturday, Indonesia’s environment minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, denied the claims of transboundary haze, telling Malaysia it should not “talk carelessly.”


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