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Raja Ampat fires destroy livelihoods; Sumatrans suffer from drought amid haze

  • Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla called on all Muslims to pray for rain on Wednesday and to ask God for “forgiveness, guidance and mercy.”
  • An aide to Kalla said companies could announce force majeur if the government declared a national disaster.
  • Malaysia continues to push Indonesia to adopt tube wells in its peatlands in Kalimantan and Riau.

Heavy rain on Tuesday night offered some respite in the city worst affected by smoke from Indonesia’s devastating wildfires as President Joko Widodo returned home early from an official visit to the U.S. to oversee the government response.

Indonesia continues to ready assets on standby to evacuate residents over the next month as a worst-case scenario. Local government offices and health centers in several affected provinces have been opened to act as shelters, but few people have made use of them. Most have chosen to remain in their own homes.

“This is not a volcanic eruption,” Mulyadi, in Toman village, Ogan Komering Ilir regency, told Mongabay. “Our wells are dry – the rivers are dry. To get clean water we dug deeper wells, but the water was murky and only suitable for washing after it was filtered.

“We’ve been forced to buy bottled water for drinking,” he added. “If you want to help us: clean water.”

Others in South Sumatra also said access to drinking water was the most pressing priority.

“Evacuation? Later,” Warsi, a resident of Lebunggajah village, told Mongabay. “We need clean water. It’s been hard to find clean water during this drought.”

Tulungseluang is another village in South Sumatra’s Ogan Komering Ilir regency that has been hit by the haze. Photo by Gita Rolis

Severe fires in Raja Ampat in Indonesia’s West Papua province are depriving local residents of livelihoods. People on on the island of Misool there made desperate attempts to extinguish fires spanning hundreds of hectares by filling up jerrycans at the nearest water source.

“Probably about 80 percent of the people here live off the forest,” Frans Manggombrab, a resident of Limalas village in Raja Ampat, told Mongabay. “If everything burns down I don’t know what will happen in the future.”

A burned-out sago palm grove in the Raja Empat archipelago in West Papua. Photo by Wahyu Chandra

Malaysian environment minister Wan Junaidi met Indonesian counterpart Siti Nurbaya on Wednesday to discuss bilateral cooperation on the haze. Malaysia continues to push Indonesia to adopt tube wells in its peatlands in Kalimantan and Riau.

The Malaysian government has used tube wells in its own peatlands and believes the ploy is the best way of injecting additional moisture into the archipelago’s peat areas. Companies drain marshy peatlands because saturated soil prevents oil palm and acacia trees from growing, but desiccated peat is extremely flammable.

Meanwhile, Indonesia continues to hesitate to declare the situation an official national disaster.

Indonesia’s vice president, Jusuf Kalla, called on all Muslims to pray for rain on Wednesday and to ask God for “forgiveness, guidance and mercy.”

The government has previously said there are legal complications to announcing a nationwide emergency. An aide to Kalla told Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper that companies could announce force majeur if the government declared a national disaster.

“Some businesses may also use the status to raise contract prices, and this is why we are analyzing the issue very thoroughly,” said the aide, Wijayanto Samirin.