Haze is heading Singapore’s way, Indonesia warns

Today Online 19 Aug 16;

JAKARTA — Indonesia warned on Friday (Aug 19) that haze from forest fires was floating over the Malacca Strait towards its neighbours, and that the rising number of blazes as a result of the dry weather in the coming weeks could make fire-fighting efforts more challenging.

Indonesia’s disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho warned that smoke had on Thursday started floating across the waterway that runs between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

“Smoke from forest and land fires in Riau (province) has started to enter the Malacca Strait,” he tweeted. “Let’s prevent and put out the fires.”

Riau, on western Sumatra island, is a major centre of the palm oil and pulpwood industry, and many fires occur there every year.

The fires and resulting smog are an annual dry-season problem in the archipelago, when blazes are started illegally to quickly and cheaply clear land, typically to make way for palm oil and pulpwood plantations.

But last year’s haze outbreak from September to November was among the worst in memory, shrouding Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Thailand in acrid smoke. The crisis affected tens of millions of people, forcing school closures and caused thousands to fall sick across the region.

While this year’s fires have yet to reach the levels of 2015, the number has been rising in recent weeks as Indonesia heads towards its peak dry season in September.

Mr Nugroho also said the number of “hot spots” detected by satellites — areas of intense heat that are either already on fire or vulnerable to going up in flames — had increased in West Kalimantan province, on Indonesia’s part of Borneo island.

A total of 158 hot spots were detected in the province yesterday, up from 106 a day earlier.

“Scattered hot spots with localised smoke plumes continued to be observed in West Kalimantan. The prevailing winds in the region are expected to blow from the south or south-west in the next few days,” said the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) on its website on Friday.

The ASMC on Thursday declared “level 2” alert for hotspots in Kalimantan after more than 150 hot spots were detected for two consecutive days.

Malaysia’s Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said this means all Asean countries are required to submit daily situation reports on the status of the fires, steps taken to extinguish them and haze mitigation efforts.

“This will allow the authorities to activate a joint emergency response should the forest fires or haze situation get out of hand,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

There are four levels of alert with the highest, level 3, activated twice in September last year — first in Sumatra and then Kalimantan after more than 250 hot spots were detected.

Mr Wan Junaidi had said he would write to his Indonesian counterpart Siti Nurbaya Bakar to inform her of these latest development, including the haze that shrouded parts of Malaysia a few days ago.

Mr Nugroho told Reuters on Friday that dry weather, which complicates firefighting efforts, would reach its peak in September, noting that the “critical period” for fires was from this month to October.

The government’s early announcement of a state of emergency for fires in five provinces this year had helped to prevent them from spreading as extensively as in 2015, he said, when El Nino made the problem worse.

“Countermeasures, including the response from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, have been faster and better. Last year the emergency status was declared only after the fires were widespread,” Mr Nugroho added. AGENCIES

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