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Indonesia declares state of emergency and fights fires in palm-growing hot spots as drought looms

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Fires raging at a palm oil plantation in Pekanbaru, in Riau province, one of the country's main palm oil-growing region. Riau is the worst affected province this year with fires scorching about 28,000 hectares of land.

Jakarta

INDONESIA is stepping up efforts to prevent a repeat of haze that blanketed much of South-east Asia four years ago by deploying thousands of firefighters and emergency response teams in its main palm oil- and rubber-producing regions.

Authorities have declared a state of emergency in some provinces after detecting 84 hot spots. More than 9,000 personnel from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, the military, police, environmental groups and private companies, including Asia Pulp & Paper Co have been deployed to combat the fires so far this season.

An estimated 11.8 million hectares of land across the archipelago is having a long and unusually dry season this year with the livelihoods of 48.5 million people at risk, according to Coordinating Ministry of Human Development and Culture.

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That's revived memories of the 2015 haze, when stinging smoke from the illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations blanketed Singapore, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand for over a month.

Provincial governments of Riau, South Sumatra, West, South and Central Kalimantan, the main palm oil and rubber producing areas, have declared a state of emergency to deal with the fires. The government has already warned of risk to its rice crop from the long dry spell that's expected to last until October.

Forest fires from illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations are a recurrent event in South-east Asia's biggest economy. Their frequent occurrence prompted President Joko Widodo to order a moratorium on new permits to clear forest and peat land for palm oil cultivation. Riau, one of the country's main palm oil-growing region, is the worst affected province this year with fires scorching about 28,000 hectares of land already, the disaster mitigation agency said in a statement on Tuesday.

The agency detected 27 hot spots in Riau, 26 in Jambi, 14 in Central Kalimantan, 12 in West Kalimantan and five in South Sumatra as of Monday. It has deployed 33 helicopters for water bombing in Riau, South Sumatra, West and Central Kalimantan. BLOOMBERG