Öykü Altuntaş / Jakarta, Sep 24 () - The carbon-rich peatlands that have been fabricating a thick haze and blanketing many parts of Indonesia following "illegal forest fires" have been affecting neighboring countries Malaysia and Singapore in recent weeks, where the air quality reached unhealthy and hazardous levels.
In Indonesia, struck by forest fires and the haze crisis across Sumatra and Kalimantan in particular, seven corporate executives were arrested on Sep. 23, with accusations of causing illegal fires in forestry.
The suspects included a senior executive from a unit of Indonesia’s largest pulp and paper producer Singapore-based Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), Bumi Mekar Hijau.
Greenpeace urges companies to stop drainage
Meanwhile, Greenpeace pointed to a “massive destruction inside forests in Riau Province, Indonesia” and urged that the forest fires continue to cause record-breaking air pollution in Singapore and Malaysia.
Greenpeace called on enterprises to immediately extinguish fires on their land, stop the drainage on peat and natural forests, while ensuring that in their supply chains, palm oil is free from forest destruction.
Government, national police to “step up”
The Indonesian government has announced it will step up to enforce and expand cloud-seeding operations.
Accordingly, the Indonesian national police chief Badrodin Haiti announced that he has deployed 682 officers, including 68 investigator, to Sumatra and Kalimantan, in a bid to strengthen firefighters and soldiers on the ground.
The El Niño Effect
Several parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia have been ravaged over forest fires due to the dry season, stemming from a weather phenomenon, the El Niño effect.
El Niño seen in southeastern Asia reduces rainfall, resulting in hot and dry weather, easing forest fires.
“We understand the El Niño will last until late November, but a weather anomaly has developed – we had rain north of the equator line,” told the Chief of National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), Willem Rampangilei.
Executive can be jailed up to 10 years for illegal forest fire
Following the forest fires and haze crisis, national police identified and arrested seven executives for suspected environmental crimes.
Along with Bumi Mekar Hijau that still faces trial for a separate civil case in the Palembang, a senior executive from the South Sumatra-based firm was arrested on Sep. 23 and has been currently under interrogations.
The Ministry of Environment and Forestry ministry had previously appealed Bumi Mekar Hijau to pay 7.8tn rupiah (around 780 million dollars) to the state for damaging forestry. The company’s management could be jailed for up to 10 years, if trialed again this time.
In 2015, provincial police units have been investigating around 24 companies and 126 individuals for breaking environmental laws, in six areas affected by the haze.
The Ministry, in the respect, estimates that 52,000 hectares of land in Sumatra were scorched by fire, while 138,000 hectares in Kalimantan were ravaged.
On the other hand, the number of “hot spots” spotted this year remains fewer against last year, told the BNPB.