Indonesia: Palembang shrouded in worst haze so far this year

Haze so thick it obscures views of towers, with visibility dwindling to just 300m
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja and David Fogarty Straits Times 28 Aug 15;

Haze that blanketed the South Sumatra provincial capital of Palembang during yesterday morning's rush hour was so thick it obscured the tops of tall cellphone towers and there is no relief in sight, weather forecasters said.

Emanating from forest and land fires in Jambi, as well as South Sumatra, the smothering shroud expanded north to neighbouring Riau, just one province removed from Singapore.

In Palembang, visibility dwindled to about 300m as residents endured a second straight day of the worst bout of haze so far this year, and the acrid smell of burnt peat hung heavily in the air.

On the Musi river, which flows through the city of 1.5 million people, the haze made navigation difficult. The Ampera Bridge, a major city landmark built during Sukarno's rule and opened in 1964, could barely be seen.

"The haze this morning was the worst so far this year," said speedboat driver Iwan, 35. "The haze is really making navigating much tougher," he added.

Hotel worker Yassir Abdullah, 25, said he was worried about coughing and respiratory problems, and feared the haze was going to get worse.

Indeed, there is little chance of rain in southern Sumatra in the coming months, according to Jambi's meteorology, climatology and geophysics office. "We cannot rely on nature to help douse the fire. Human efforts are needed," Mr Okta Irawan, a weather forecaster there, told The Straits Times.

With visibility dropping to as low as 500m in the mornings yesterday and Wednesday, flights to airports in Jambi and South Sumatra provinces were delayed.

South Sumatra provincial administration has started distributing 15,000 masks to its residents, after the number of hot spots rose to 125 on Wednesday (the latest available data), up from 44 the previous day.

The Jakarta Post reported that schools in Siak regency, Riau province, had sent home students because the haze had reached dangerous levels. Schools there will remain closed until tomorrow.

Prevailing winds were also carrying the haze to Singapore and parts of Malaysia.

Yesterday, the Singapore National Environment Agency's website showed a slight improvement in the haze situation. The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was in the moderate range as of 5pm yesterday, and is expected to remain at about the same level today.

Manjung in Perak had the unhealthiest air in Malaysia. Its Air Pollutant Index (API) spiked to 103 in the morning, according to The Star.

The API reading in Port Klang in Selangor reached 102.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said Malaysia had written to Indonesia asking Jakarta to put out open burning fires as quickly as possible.

•With additional reporting by Linette Lai in Singapore

Indonesia: Haze disrupts Palembang airport, stops Garuda from landing 27 Aug 15;

A thick haze filling the air of South Sumatra provincial capital Palembang and its surrounding areas has disrupted flights to and from the city’s Sutan Mahmud Baharuddin II Airport.

The public relations manager of state-owned airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II, Achmad Syarir, said on Thursday that two planes had been unable to land at the airport due to limited visibility.

“We have not closed the airport yet, but there have been planes that could not land,” Achmad said as quoted by According to Achmad, a Garuda Indonesia flight arriving from Jakarta returned to Jakarta, while Garuda’s Bandung-Palembang route was redirected to Jakarta.

Meanwhile, airport authorities were not allowing any planes to take off from the airport.

Achmad said that he could not make any predictions regarding when the airport’s activity would back to normal. “It depends on conditions in the air. “The regulator will issue a statement on whether the airport will be closed or not,” he added.

Forest fires burning in Sumatra and Kalimantan have become an annual disaster, disrupting flights and causing health problems, particularly for local people. In previous years, the haze from the forest fires has also affected Singapore and Malaysia.

The government has not found a way to stop the wild fires. (bbn)

Indonesia: Thousands suffer respiratory infections as fires spread widely
Jon Afrizal and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 27 Aug 15;

Thousands of people in Jambi have been suffering from acute respiratory infections (ISPA) caused by worsening haze from widespread land and forest fires in the province.

“ISPA cases are found in all of the regencies and cities across Jambi. The cases are mostly found in Jambi city, where from June to July this year the number of ISPA cases reached 3,910, followed by East Tanjungjabung regency with 2,390 cases and Muarojambi regency with 1,690 cases,” said the Jambi Health Office’s Disease Control and Environmental Health Affairs head Kaswendi on Wednesday.

He added that those most susceptible to the disease are children, especially toddlers.

In regards to the matter, Jambi City Health Office head Ida Yuliati said her office had provided 200 masks to each community health clinic (Puskesmas) in the city as part of an effort to prevent an increase in the number of patients.

“We also provided 1,000 masks to the Education Office to be distributed to schools because children are exposed to cough and cold,” said Ida.

Separately, the West Sumatra Forestry Office is making strenuous efforts to prevent land and forest fires from escalating during the long drought.

Early this week, two land and forest fires reportedly broke out in Tanah Datar and Lima Puluh Kota regencies and razed dozens of hectares of forest.

The biggest fire took place in Pangian village, Lintau Buo district, Tanah Datar as about 30 hectares of production forest and rubber plantation were destroyed in two days. The fire started on Monday, but was extinguished on Wednesday.

“This is the third fire this year. The two earlier fires took place in other places and razed areas of less than five hectares,” said the head of the Tanah Datar Agriculture, Forestry and Plantation Office, Refriasel.

Two fires took place in Limapuluh Kota, one in Sarilamak village and the other in Taram village, both in Harau district. The fires, which were extinguished on Tuesday, destroyed more than five hectares of agricultural land and shrubs.

In Banyumas regency, Central Java, a fire destroyed a forest on Mount Slamet, at an elevation of around 2,900 meters, on Tuesday night.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire was still flaring at a height of around 8 meters and had scorched around 50 hectares of forest.

That fire was the second on Mount Slamet in the past week. Earlier, a forested area in Tegal regency part of the mountain was also razed, simultaneously with a forest fire on Mount Merbabu. The first fire on Mount Slamet was put out after three days. The fire gutted a total area of 15 hectares.

“Based on our observations since Tuesday evening, around 25 fires razed the forest in Banyumas. So far, seven of the fires have been doused,” said East Banyumas Integrated Forest Management (KPH) unit spokesman Taufik Didiet.

He added his office, the Indonesian Military (TNI), police, the local Perhutani state forestry enterprise, Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) and Search and Rescue coordinated to extinguish the fire.

The joint firefighting team claimed they faced difficulty in putting out the fire as its location was far up the slopes near the mountain peak.

“The firefighters had to walk for around eight hours from the Kalipagu post in Ketenger village, Baturraden district, which is the last village bordering directly with the forest,” said Taufik.

As from on Mt. Slamet, fires are currently burning areas on Mount Lawu and are reportedly approaching residential areas in Jenawi and Ngargoyoso districts, Karanganyar regency, Central Java.

“Teams of volunteers [who will help douse the fires] have not yet reached the locations since it’s very dangerous,” Karanganyar BPBD head Nugroho admitted.

The fires have also threatened a historic Cetho Temple complex built during the Majapahit Kingdom in the 15th century on the slope of the mountain, as well as Mount Lawu National Park.

— Ganug Nugroho Adi from Surakarta and Agus Maryono from Banyumas also contributed to the story

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)