Riau Haze May Hit Singapore as Wind Direction Changes - Indonesia’s meteorological agency

Jakarta Globe 28 Feb 14;

Jakarta. Singapore may soon be choking on the same haze that has cloaked Riau province for nearly a month as wind directions change, Indonesia’s meteorological agency warned on Friday.

“The wind, which was previously blowing from the north and the east to the south, is starting to turn to the opposite direction, so there’s a possibility that the haze will blow to Singapore,” Sugarin, the head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Pekanbaru, told the Indonesian news portal Republika Online.

Forest fires began to burn in Riau earlier this month growing to cover nearly 6,000 hectares of land at their peak and prompting Riau Governor Annas Maamun to declare a state of emergency on Wednesday. The province has struggled to curb illegal land clearing in spite of international condemnation stemming from last year’s wide-reaching haze issues. The practice, which is locally accepted as a “traditional” method to prepare palm oil plantations for cultivation, has been the focus of repeated education and outreach programs, but local farmers continue to employ its use.

Police in Riau have charged 40 people with setting forest fires in the past month in a crackdown on the destructive slash-and-burn clearing responsible for the region’s annual haze.

“All have been arrested and directly named as suspects in land burnings over the past few weeks,” Sr. Comr. Estuning, a commander with the Riau Police Forest Burning Task Force, told the state-run Antara News Agency on Friday.

All of those arrested were small-scale farmers, not employees of the multinational palm oil and pulp companies operating in the province, Estuning said. The suspects were arrested in the districts of Bengkalis, Meranti, Rokan Hilir, Siak and the cities of Pekanbaru and Dumai. The total number of people detained in the sweeps will likely increase as police investigate the cause of hundreds of fires, the officer said.

“We will keep on reporting the results of the investigation from the task force,” Estuning said.

The number of reported hotspots in Sumatra dropped to 388 on Friday, down from the 747 reported yesterday, according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Pekanbaru. Most of the hotspots were in Bengkalis — a district where firefighters and locals are coping with the frightening emergence of Sumatran tigers after the endangered animal’s habitat began to burn earlier this week.

The thick haze blanketing much of the province worsened on Friday, with visibility dropping to some 500 meters, according to the local news portal RiauKini.com. If the haze did indeed reach Singapore or Malaysia, it would likely be less serious than last year’s haze woes, local BMKG officials said.