INDONESIA - Just one day after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologised to irritated neighbours Singapore and Malaysia for the uncontrollable forest fires in Riau, he personally checked the preparation of a special task force to accelerate the efforts against the severe haze at Halim Perdanakusuma Air Force base in East Jakarta on Tuesday.
On Monday the President scolded his top aides for making confrontational remarks against the two neighbours after they strongly complained that the Indonesian government did little to stop the haze, which has blanketed Singapore and Kuala Lumpur for several days. Apparently, nature was at least helpful on Tuesday evening when it brought rain in Riau.
The task force consists of members of the Indonesian Military (TNI), the National Police, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) as well as Health Ministry, social and forestry affairs officials.
During an official ceremony dispatching the team Yudhoyono called on the 2,300 members of the task force to do a "good job" in overcoming the haze.
"Do you understand your assignment? […] Please do a good job," Yudhoyono said.
BNPB chief Syamsul Maarif said the government would appoint another 3,049 personnel to join the efforts.
Riau Haze Disaster Response Task Force commander Brig. Gen. Teguh Rahardjo said the additional reinforcements would be stationed in the worst-hit areas, especially in regencies and mayoralties bordering the Malacca Strait.
"The Marines will be posted in areas around Dumai and Rokan Hilir, while other troops will help firefighters in Pelalawan and Indragiri Hilir. Today, they will be assigned to the fires that have been difficult to douse," Teguh said at the Roesmin Nurjadin Airbase in Pekanbaru, Riau.
"The current major obstacle in the field is water shortage. There is no problem with the water sources especially for water bombing by helicopters, but the land firefighting team has encountered problems in reaching the water sources, that's why they need long hoses," he added.
The haze, which was caused by forest and peatland fires last week, covered parts of the province such as Bengkalis, Dumai, Pekanbaru and Rokan Hilir, as well as Singapore and Malaysia, which stated they were in a national state of emergency.