PULANG PISAU, Central Kalimantan: Indonesia will soon issue a regulation to make it compulsory for land concession owners to install water level monitoring systems to ensure the peatlands are kept moist.
The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) told Channel NewsAsia that the decree will be signed by the Environment and Forestry Minister within the next few weeks.
"We’re right now discussing the details of the technical guidelines of how to do the restorations with our colleagues from the Environment and Forestry Ministry," said head of BRG Nazir Foead on the sidelines of a work visit in central Kalimantan.
"We look forward to having a regulation being signed by Ibu Menteri (the minister) pretty soon. It will be enforced because it’s (a) regulation from the ministry," he added.
The ministerial regulation will enforce the standard operating procedures issued by the agency in December last year.
BRG was set up in January 2016 after the previous year's massive forest fires.
It has been tasked to restore nearly 2.5 million hectares of the damaged peatland - half of it in the hands of concession holders, such as plantation companies.
Soon, these companies will have to comply with a new regulation requiring them - by law - to install a water logger telemetry that will keep track of the water levels on their holdings.
More than 20 of the water logger devices - developed by the agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) - have been tested in five fire-prone areas over the past year.
Information from the device is transmitted in real-time every 10 minutes and updated in an open access website.
"When water is less than 40cm below the surface, the area is susceptible to fires," said Dr Aswin Usup, head of Fire Control and Forest Rehabilitation at Pangkala Raya University.
He added: "In addition, when the moisture of the soil is less than 40 per cent, the area will be prone to fires. That's the function of the water logger we have installed."
BRG is conducting its technical guidelines to determine how many water logger devices are needed for the entire restoration exercise.
It expects to complete the technical guidelines for the water loggers by the first quarter of this year.
"It could be the case that one company will need so many sensors because they are situated in the area where there is a diversity of ecology. That's why more sensors need to be installed. It could be one company only (needs to) install a few because they (the land) are more homogenous. It’s possible that a company, because the size is pretty small and their concession is already covered by others, (won't) need to (install the sensor)," said Mr Nazir.
Environmentalists have said that the water loggers are important because they not only provide early detection against fires, but can be used as evidence if concession owners fail to keep the peatlands moist.
President Joko Widodo has shown interest in this development and asked for the information to be available in his situation room at the State Palace.
Last month, Mr Widodo told officials he did not want a repeat of the blaze that smothered Southeast Asia in haze in 2015.
This year promises to be drier than 2016, with hotspots already detected in fire-prone Riau province, which declared a state of emergency for forest and land fires last month.