09/17/2019, 15.01
INDONESIA
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Widodo slams local authorities for their handling of fire emergency

by Mathias Hariyadi

Fires have been raging in the Indonesia for more than a month, fuelled by the dry season. Indonesia’s president visited Riau province, the most affected along with Kalimantan. “We have all the means to deal with this disaster, but some have not yet performed as well as they should," the president said.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – As forest fires continue to sweep across the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has acknowledged the slowness of local authorities in dealing with the emergency.

A thick blanket of smoke rising from the ground makes the air unbreathable, raising concerns about the health of residents. Poor visibility has forced civil aviation authorities to revise flight plans for planes departing or landing in Pekanbaru and Pontianak, capitals of the provinces of Riau and West Kalimantan.

Fires have been raging in the Indonesian archipelago for more than a month, fed by the dry season. However, fires are often the result of arson as people set the forests ablaze in favour of palm oil and acacia plantations.

In recent days, neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore have complained to the Indonesian government about the haze caused by the flames.

President Widodo (picture) yesterday visited Riau province to directly check out the situation. He was accompanied by important government officials like Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB) chief General Doni Monardo, as well as senior military (TNI) and national police (PolRi) officers.

Today, at a press conference at the Roesmin Nurjadin Airbase in Pekanbaru, Widodo said that "All efforts have been deployed (by the central government) with all resources [needed] to cope with this national concern”. This includes sending 5,600 people from other regions to Riau province.

The president explained that all levels of government and the security forces are able to take all measures needed to prevent the situation from reaching a crisis point. However, he noted that recurring fires are due to ineffective cooperation and lack of initiative. "We have all the means to deal with this disaster, but some have not yet performed as well as they should," the president said.

General Monardo didn’t mince his words when speaking about local authorities. "Field officials have complained that they [local officials] are not doing enough. I don't want to put them on the spot, but the fact is that people in charge of regencies are not working hard enough."

Jokowi finally called on all people to refrain from setting fire to peatbogs and forests. He ordered police to act with great severity against arsonists, be they companies or individuals. "We have taken legal action against individuals and companies," he said.

At present, the Environment and Forestry Ministry has already revoked the licenses of 19 plantation companies.

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