World

Jokowi warns of drier weather this year, urges vigilance

JAKARTA Indonesian President Joko Widodo has urged officials not to be complacent in tackling land and forest fires, as the country braces for drier weather this year.

"We remember that the fires in 2015 had driven us all helter-skelter. And that was because the fires had already spread and become huge, so whatever we did was in vain as it was already burning," he told ministers, governors and senior officials at the national coordination meeting on land and forest fire control at the state palace yesterday.

"That's why we must all now anticipate to ensure the 2015 fire incidents do not recur," he added.

Mr Joko warned that "dryness has begun to show" this month. "Do not get complacent... 2017 is predicted to be more dry than 2016 so we must really be careful," he said.

He called on local governments to declare emergency status early in fire-prone, peat-rich locations such as the provinces of Riau, East and West Kalimantan and Papua, so that aid can be deployed promptly.

Monitoring should be actively conducted on site and not from the office, he added.

Mr Joko said he has ordered the military chief and police "not to be hesitant" in meting out punishments to those responsible for fires.

"This year, we really want a 100 per cent fall (in the number of hot spots)," he said.

"I know it's going to be very difficult, but we must work hard to anticipate."

Mr Joko said fires in 2015, which had shrouded the region in haze, had resulted in economic losses amounting to 220 trillion rupiah (S$23.38 billion), which was "a very huge figure".

He said the size of land razed by fires and number of hot spots had "fallen drastically" from the year before due to early prevention efforts.

He said: "So early on in January, we want all to understand and realise that the impact of many hot spots brought about by the land and forest fires will really affect everything."

aarlina@sph.com.sg

HazeindonesiaJoko Widodo