- Recent rain has brought a marked improvement to air pollution levels in most parts of the archipelago but localized spikes in wildfires continue to threaten air quality.
- The International Red Cross is implementing a three-month emergency response plan through January next year.
- An RSPO official calls on palm oil companies to make public all concession maps and plans for development on those concessions.
The Indonesian military said on Thursday conditions in South Sumatra had improved but that it was not yet time to withdraw soldiers seconded to firefighting efforts in more remote parts of the province.
“Up to now we still have 1,000 soldiers working to extinguish fires in South Sumatra,” General Tri Winarno said.
Parts of Rokan Hulu, one of the regencies of Sumatra worst-affected by this year’s haze, were inundated with water on Thursday following months of unrelenting drought and fires.
“The smoke disappears; the floods arrive,” Indonesia’s disaster management agency spokesman Sutotop Purwo Nugroho said on Thursday.
Recent rain has brought a marked improvement to air pollution levels in most parts of the archipelago but localized spikes in wildfires continue to threaten air quality. People in East Kalimantan were again wearing face masks on Thursday after thin smoke emerged from surrounding fires in the haze-hit province.
Indonesian newspaper Tribun reported smoke returned to North Penajam Paser regency on Wednesday night.
“Overnight when you went in to a room inside it still smelled like something was burning,” said one resident.
The International Red Cross said on Wednesday it was implementing a three-month emergency response plan through January next year. The NGO said that it was readying safehouses equipped with air purifiers in affected areas that it would also provide first-aid facilities and refer seriously sick patients to appropriate health centers.
The IRC emergency response is working in three affected provinces. It has received funding from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, disaster response emergency fund as well as USAID.
A doctor working at a health clinic in Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra province, said 50 percent of those seeking treatment at the facility were children.
Red Cross teams in the field are also working out of mobile health centers in more-remote areas, with doctors and health workers handing out basic items such as face masks, oxygen cylinders and vitamins.
“Although the haze has now reduced significantly, community members still come to the Red Cross emergency houses with continuing respiratory complaints,” the IRC said.
As the Indonesian government continued to work on the details of new policies designed to address the underlying causes of annual fires, the palm oil industry’s largest certification body for sustainability said wholesale reforms were needed for the industry to repair its reputation for land loss.
“The stigma of palm oil as an environmental villain is deep-rooted, with the industry being the most scrutinized in terms of environmental and social impacts,” Edi Suhardi, the vice president of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), writes in the Jakarta Post.
Suhardi calls on palm oil companies to make public all concession maps and plans for development on those concessions. In addition the government must expedite efforts to produce a comprehensive map identifying every concession holder in order to build sufficient data to manage future fires.
Suhardi calls on the government to revoke all laws at the local level that permit small-scale burning as a means of clearing land.
“The newly formed Indonesia Estate Crop Fund, which manages the CPO Supporting Fund (CSF), can play the pivotal role of a sustainability champion to align the efforts of the government with multinational agencies and multi-stakeholder organizations to rebuild the image and understanding of Indonesian palm oil,” he writes.
The CSF, also known as the CPO Fund, has been the subject of intense debate over whether it should carry safeguards meant to curtail deforestation and peatlands conversion.