Indonesia deploys military to fight forest fires in Sumatra

Indonesia deploys military to fight forest fires in Sumatra

JAKARTA: The Indonesian military has sent more than 1,000 soldiers to South Sumatra province on Thursday (Sep 10) to put out ongoing forest fires. The personnel departed from a Jakarta air base on Thursday morning. 

This comes after the national disaster mitigation agency sought for more reinforcements to deal with the forest fire situation in Sumatra.

Indonesian police have identified 14 hotspots in South Sumatra and authorities have said a number of them belong to plantation companies. Some of the burning areas are in the province’s national parks.

Ms Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Indonesia’s Minister for Environment and Forestry, on Tuesday said: “We can identify using the coordinates. We can do that. But the National Reserve is also affected not only by individuals but also plantation companies. There are indications and we have discovered some.”

President Joko Widodo wants plantation companies to be made responsible for any fire occurring in their concessions. But there are difficulties in prosecuting the perpetrators despite knowing who they are, due to the country’s complex judicial process.

A multi-agency task force that includes the police and military is trying to fight the fires, which have shrouded Sumatra and Kalimantan in a dense haze. The haze has hit the provinces of South Sumatra, Jambi and Riau especially hard, forcing schools to close and airports to shut down.

The smoke has also affected neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia, causing the air quality there to deteriorate to unhealthy levels on some days.

All eyes are on how Indonesia tackles the forest fires and the relating smog since it ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution late last year. In December last year, Indonesia had also launched its One Map Policy, to provide better coordination for its various agencies in responding to forest fires and the resulting haze. The question remains whether all these will make a difference this time round.