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Indonesia faces alarming surge in forest and land fires in 2023, warns disaster agency

Indonesia faces a concerning surge in forest and land fires (karhutla) in 2023, recording 499 incidents from January to August, far surpassing the previous three years, when the count consistently remained below 300.

This spike raises significant environmental and safety concerns.



INDONESIA: Indonesia is grappling with a significant increase in forest and land fires (karhutla) this year, with 499 reported incidents from January to August 2023, according to data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana or BNPB).

This surge in fire incidents has raised concerns as it surpasses the numbers from the previous three years.

Abdul Muhari, the Head of the Data, Information, and Disaster Communication Center at BNPB, highlighted this alarming trend.

He revealed that from 2020 to 2022, the number of karhutla incidents remained consistently below 300.

However, within just eight months of 2023, the count has exceeded 300, marking a substantial increase. Abdul attributed this change to the influence of La Niña and the current El Niño phenomenon.

“In the last three years, due to the influence of La Niña, karhutla incidents were not significant, consistently below 200 or 300. But in the eight months of 2023, we have already reported nearly 500 karhutla incidents, not to mention those that go unreported,” Abdul stated during a YouTube broadcast on Tuesday (September 5).

Abdul explained that the current phase of El Niño in 2023 is considered weak to moderate, yet the increase in the forest and land fire incidents is already significant, possibly foreshadowing a more severe situation next year.

He predicted that next year’s El Niño phenomenon could reach a medium to strong scale, emphasizing the need for government preparations and vigilance.

“If, with the current weak to moderate El Niño, we’ve already witnessed nearly 500 karhutla incidents in just the first three months of the dry season, we must be even more cautious when faced with moderate to strong El Niño conditions,” he cautioned.

In addition to the concerning increase in karhutla incidents, Abdul noted that from August 28 to September 3, there were 46 disaster events, with forest and land fires dominating the count at 32 cases, accounting for 70 percent of the total.

Recent incidents included fires that ravaged 240 hectares of land on the slopes of Mount Sumbing in Wonosobo Regency, Central Java, last Friday (1 Sept) and a fire that consumed 53 hectares of land in Kubu Raya Regency, West Kalimantan, on Monday (4 Sept).

Furthermore, over the past week, BNPB recorded six instances of drought, ten cases of flooding, and one each of landslides and earthquakes.

Between January and August 2023, there were 853 flood-related disasters and 836 extreme weather events in Indonesia, bringing the total number of disasters during this period to 2,741.

Abdul highlighted that karhutla has gained prominence as one of the top contributors to disasters in Indonesia this year, a shift from previous years where floods, extreme weather, and landslides dominated the disaster landscape.

The increase in karhutla (forest and land fire) incidents has been attributed to human factors, with BNPB investigations indicating that approximately 90 percent of karhutla cases are caused by human activities. Abdul stressed that wildfires don’t simply ignite spontaneously, except perhaps during lightning strikes.

Human-triggered karhutla incidents result from discarded cigarette butts, unattended campfires, and other related factors.

The alarming surge in forest and land fires in Indonesia calls for immediate attention and comprehensive preventive measures, as the nation braces itself for the potential challenges posed by the anticipated El Niño in the coming year.

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