What, exactly, has Jakarta done to beat the haze?

THE BIG HAZE

How much has Indonesia pledged, in word and deed, to address the haze disaster caused by its forest fires? DERWIN PEREIRA lists what has been said and done in recent weeks.

WORDS

President says sorry Sept 16: Mr Suharto apologises for the fires and worsening haze conditions. It is a rare apology by the Indonesian leader, breaking the silence of the Indonesian government on the matter. The President apologises again on Oct 5.

Evacuation plan announced Sept 17: Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja announces plans to evacuate 50,000 residents from Rengat city in Riau. It is a sign that the Indonesian government has seen the need for drastic action, given the worsening haze. The government announces plans to evacuate other affected provinces, but eventually no such action was carried out.

Fires declared a disaster Sept 25: Mr Suharto declares fires to be a “national natural disaster” and calls on all Indonesians to help fight the blaze. This is seen as an admission by the government that the problem is serious and requires concerted action to tackle it. However, the announcement does not make clear what will be done to help people in the disaster-hit areas.

I’m to blame, says minister Oct 1: Forestry Minister Djamaluddin Suryohadikusumo takes responsibility for the fires, the only minister to do so. Other ministers say steadfastly that the fires are the result of the drought-causing El Nino weather phenomenon.

Ministers pledge: No haze next year Oct 6: Joint press conference by seven Cabinet Ministers in Jakarta, led by Environment Minister Sarwono who pledges to ensure that the haze does not come back next year.

ACTION

Haze command post set up Aug 21: Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja sets up a National Coordinating Team for Controlling Land and Forest Fires (Posko) in Jakarta, the first agency formed to receive and send out critical information about fires. It also has centres in Riau, Bali and Ujung Pandang. But the posts are all ill-equipped and under-manned.

Ban on burning Sept 9: President Suharto bans land-clearing by burning. It is the first time such an indefinite ban has been imposed on forestry and plantation firms, to stop them clearing land by fire. The ban is followed through by monitoring and enforcement which is on-going. Some firms step up burning so that they can meet their business targets. The practice is said to have stopped now.

Companies hauled up Sept 15: The government names 176 companies for violating the ban on land-clearing by fire and threatens to revoke their licences after 15 days if they fail to prove their innocence. This is the first time the government has made public the names of forestry and plantation firms. It goes on to revoke the licences of 29 firms which failed to show enough proof that they did not violate the ban.

Cloud seeding Sept 15: The Indonesian Air Force sends four aircraft to Pekanbaru in Sumatra for 30 days of cloud-seeding operations in the hope that rain will help to clear the haze affecting parts of Indonesia and neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia. Four days later, the air force announces plans to do cloud seeding over West and Central Kalimantan but this had to be put on hold because of poor weather conditions.

New environment law Sept 19: Mr Suharto approves a new environmental Bill passed by Parliament in August. It empowers the government to crack down on errant firms that start fires, providing stiffer penalties on violaters and the right to seize their assets. Mr Suharto enacts Bill to become law.

$1.6m set aside Sept 25: Forestry Minister Djamaludin Suryohadikusumo announces that the government is allocating 3.1 billion rupiah (S$1.6 million) to combat the fires and will deploy more than 8,400 professional firefighters in the affected provinces.

Military steps up action Oct 5: President Suharto orders the Indonesian military to step up efforts to put out the fires, an order issued because of the manpower shortage at the provincial level. As a result, more military personnel are expected to join the 50,000 troops already involved in fire-fighting.

WHO’S GIVING WHAT

Help pours in from near and far, from governments, international aid agencies and volunteer groups.

Funds Britain: US$90,000
South Korea: US$100,000
United States: US$25,000
WHO: US$200,000
Opec: US$200,000
Indonesian Forestry Association: 20 billion rupiah (S$9 million)
Jayabaya University Student’s Union: US$200

Equipment

Singapore: Computers, geographical positioning satellite systems; a Singapore Armed Forces C-130 aircraft and crew.
Australia: 1,500 units of fire-fighting equipment and a US$720,000 aerial water-bombing package that includes an AT-802 aircraft
Japan: 300 units of portable jet shooters worth US$147,372
World Wildlife Fund for Nature: Computers and geographical positioning satellite systems
IBM: Computers for National Coordinating Team for Controlling Land and Forest Fires

Manpower and specialists

Malaysia: 1,400 fire fighters to fight blazes in Sumatra and Kalimantan
Singapore: Three technical experts Australia: Fire fighters and medical team
Japan: Disaster relief team
National Consortium for Indonesian Forest and Nature Conservation: Over 50 volunteers to help in computer programming and map-reading
Indonesian Nature Lovers’ Group: 1,000 fire-fighting volunteers
France: Three fire-fighting experts
Canada: Two fire-fighting experts
Finland, Germany and Sweden: One fire-fighting expert each

Other assistance

Unicef: 21,650 face masks worth US$20,000
Indonesian Forestry Association: Logistical support
Indonesia’s Pertamina oil company: Four million respiratory masks and medicine
Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights: 500 masks
Indonesian Women’s Association: 300 masks as well as medicine
Jayabaya University Students’ Union: 200 masks

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