President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who used to plant trees in forests as a state firm employee, has lectured the authorities on the basics of preventing forest and land fires in anticipation of a long dry spell amid threats of a reoccurring haze crisis that hits neighbors Malaysia and Singapore.  

Speaking at a coordination meeting on forest and land fires on Tuesday, Jokowi, who in the 1980s worked as an employee of state-owned paper producer PT Kertas Kraft Aceh, ordered the authorities to prioritize preventive actions in vulnerable provinces as the dry spell is expected to persist until October.

“Do not underestimate the presence of hotspots. If fires break out, immediately put them out and do not wait until it spreads,” Jokowi said in the State Palace meeting. “We’ll be ashamed of facing other countries if we cannot solve the smoke problem.”

The President, who is slated to visit Malaysia and Singapore this week, called on regional administrations, Indonesian Military (TNI), National Police, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) to work together cooperatively.

More than 9,000 personnel from the government as well as environmental groups and private companies have been deployed to combat fires.

The government has assigned an emergency alert status to six out of 18 provinces prone to forest and land fires, namely in Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan, effectively activating the deployment of special task forces in the respective provinces to deal with forest and land fires.

Jokowi also emphasized preventive measures such as daily hotspots and peatland ecosystem monitoring as key actions in tackling forest and land fires, urging the use of drones to detect fires early and private companies to adopt modern technology for risk mitigation.

The Terra Aqua Modis satellite detected 2,070 hotspots between January and July this year, up 54.71 percent from 1,338 hotspots recorded over the same period last year.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Minister Wiranto said the risk of forest and land fires will persist until the peak of the dry season in September this year, hence the ministry will focus on public dissemination targeted to all related stakeholders from growers to local authorities on prevention efforts.

“Prevention efforts are prioritized rather than handling,” Wiranto said, additionally reporting that “the air quality had already dropped in several regions but is still in the mild category, not to the extent of disrupting the livelihoods of the people.”