The number of areas in Indonesia where a wildfire could occur has doubled due to dry weather conditions, authorities said on Monday, raising concerns over widespread disasters even before the peak dry season – expected between August to early September.
The number of wildfire ‘hotspots’ recorded between July 17 and July 23 increased sharply to 12,701 from 6,082 seen a week earlier, according to Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB). The Southeast Asian country has a worrying history of devastating forest fires.
Fires in 2015 and 2019 blanketed Indonesia and multiple other countries in the region with haze. According to the World Bank, the incident from 2019 caused nearly $5.2 billion in financial losses in eight Indonesian provinces.
Some 900,000 people reported respiratory illnesses. A study published in November 2021 found 3.1 million hectares got burned in the devastating fire – an area larger than Belgium – compared to the 1.6 million hectares from official estimates.
This year, the majority of the spike in hotspots was seen in Kalimantan, Java and Papua, said BNPB spokesperson Abdul Muhari. He called for greater vigilance in a virtual briefing, despite stressing not all hotspots will turn into fire spots.
Indonesia could experience its most severe dry season since 2019, partially because of the return of the El Nino effect. Abdul asked citizens to report any substantial drop in water level in peatland areas and to not leave fires unattended.