Indonesia: Haze plagues Sumatra, fires destroy forests in Central Java

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 15;

Haze that has been covering most parts of West Sumatra and Jambi is worsening, while fires are continuing to burn forested areas in the mountains of Central Java.

In Padang, West Sumatra, haze has reduced visibility at Minangkabau International Airport to between 2,000 and 3,000 meters.

“Previously, the lowest visibility caused by haze was 5000 meters,” the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Padang office spokesman, Budi Samiaji, said on Friday, adding that the haze was now the worst it had been in weeks.

The haze, Budi said, was almost certainly a result of forest and land fires in southern Sumatra, where many hot spots have been found.

In Jambi, fires have burned 9,149 hectares of peat land in East Tanjungjabung and Muarojambi regencies so far this year, causing losses of Rp 716 billion (US$51 million), according to the Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI) Warsi.

The community’s manager, Rudi Syaf, expressed regret that no solution had been found to the annual fires and resultant haze.

In Riau, the provincial disaster mitigation agency (BPBD) has urged the provincial administrations of Jambi and South Sumatra to be proactive in dealing with forest and land fires in their respective regions.

“Although the fires occur in those two provinces, the impacts are also felt in neighboring provinces, including Riau,” Riau BPBD head Edwar Sanger said on Friday.

Haze has been blamed for deteriorating air quality in Riau, with local authorities in Siak and Pelalawan regencies forced to send students home over health concerns.

Edwar suggested that both provincial administrations declare an emergency status for forest and land fires to encourage the central government to assist in solving the problem.

Acting Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman has decided to extend the emergency status for haze and fires in the province beyond the original Aug. 31 cut-off point, citing forecasts that the El Nino weather phenomenon will last until October.

“Based on the results of the evaluation meeting, the emergency status will be extended from Sept. 1 to Sept. 31, 2015,” the governor said.

In Karanganyar, Central Java, a fire in Mt. Lawu forest had yet to be fully extinguished as of Friday, with efforts hampered by tricky access to the location.

“The field is indeed difficult. Volunteers have to walk for three to four hours from Cetho Temple to reach the location,” said district military command (Kodim) commander 0727/Karanganyar Lt. Col. Inf. Mathen Pasunda.

Separately, the head of the Karanganyar BPBD, Nugroho, said that ditches would be dug to contain the fire, explaining that the ditches would be filled with water from pipelines normally used to channel clean water to houses.

Volunteers calling themselves the Children of Mount Lawu (AGL) and local police and military personnel have meanwhile established joint posts to help douse the fires.

The main post was erected near Cetho Temple in Jenawi district, while three supporting posts were established around the climbing posts in Cemara Kandang and Cetho Temple.

Besides Mt. Lawu, forested areas on the slopes of Mt. Sindoro in Wonosobo regency, also in Central Java, were similarly ravaged by fire on Friday.

Rizal Harahap in Pekanbaru and Ganug Nugroho Adi in Karanganyar also contributed to this story.

Indonesia: Haze covers Minangkabau airport, visibility 2,000 meters 28 Aug 15;

The forest and land fires in and around West Sumatra have filled the province’s air with haze causing visibility to decline to only 2,000 to 3,000 meters and affecting the activity of Minangkabau airport in the provincial capital of Padang.

The ideal visibility for airports to operate with is 10,000 meters.

“Reports from a number of regencies suggest that the haze has become thicker,” said Budi Samiadji from the Padang Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) as quoted by on Friday.

He expressed hope that visibility in the area would soon get back to normal as the potential for rain in the province is high in the coming days.

Albert, a staff member at the BMKG’s Global Atmosphere Watch (IGAW) in Bukit Kototabang, said that the air quality was declining, not only due to the fires in West Sumatra but also those in Jambi and South Sumatra.

“We anticipate a possible further drop in air quality, but there is chance of rain in West Sumatra. Hopefully, the rain might clear the haze,” he added. (bbn)

Islands in focus: Riau students get days off due to thick haze
The Jakarta Post 28 Aug 15;

The Siak regional administration in Riau has instructed students in the regency not to attend schools from Thursday to Saturday due to the declining quality of air in the region that has been brought about by thick haze from land and forest fires in province.

Siak Education Agency head Kadri Yafis said the policy had been taken to minimize the health impact of the haze on students.

“All schools, from pre-school to senior high school, will be closed temporarily for three days, but teachers must still be at school as usual,” he said on Thursday.

Kadri said the local administration might also extend the policy should the air quality in the region remain at unhealthy levels by Aug. 31.

“Hopefully, the haze will quickly disappear. If not, we will decide further,” he said.

Kadri also urged students not to go outdoors during the forced leave.“Don’t go outdoors and inhale haze that could be hazardous to health,” he said.

Parents, meanwhile, welcomed the policy although some of them complained that they had not been properly informed about the policy by school management.

“There’s no official announcement [about the policy] and no one knows that today is an off day. This morning every parent sent their children to school but the children were asked to return home by teachers,” said Salman, a local resident and father of one.

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Schools sends home students as haze reaches dangerous level
Rizal Harahap, 27 Aug 15;

Schools in Siak regency, Riau province, have sent home students as haze reached levels dangerous to human health. The schools are scheduled to remain closed until Saturday.

“All schools from early age to senior high are temporary closed. The teachers are expected to remain at school,” said head of Siak Education Agency Kadri Yafis on Thursday, adding that school is expected to start again on Monday. “Hopefully, the haze will disappear. But if it does not, we will make a decision later.”

He advised parents to keep their children indoors due to the hazardous haze. Some parents welcomed the decision although it was made only on Thursday after many children were already in school.

“We have reached the schools, but the teachers sent the students home. They received a circular from the education agency about the temporary closures,” said Salman, one of the parents of an elementary school student in Biak.

Meanwhile, the Rokan Hulu Disaster Management head Aceng Herdiana said that 16 districts in the regency were also badly affected by the haze and smoke on Thursday, affecting flights to and from Tuanku Tambusai Pasirpangaraian airport in the regency. “A Wings Air’s plane was forced to delay its departure for 90 minutes due to low visibility,” Aceng said.

Meanwhile, head of Pekanbaru’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said that the haze that is covering several regencies in Riau province came from forest fires in other provinces in Sumatra.

According to Terra and Aqua satellite, there are 178 hotspots across Sumatra, five of which are in Riau. South Sumatra with 80 hotspots is the worst province, followed by Jambi with 69 hotspots, Bangka Belitung with 10 hotspots, Lampung with six hotspots, West Sumatra and Bengkulu both with three and Aceh with two.

Meanwhile, Riau acting Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman has planned to prolong the haze emergency status in his province that has been in effect since April and was to expire on Aug. 31. “The forest fires in Riau have declined significantly, but haze is still covering Riau due to smoke from other provinces. The emergency status may be prolonged until Sept. 30,” he added. (bbn)