Indonesia:Haze from slash-and-burn shrouds Indonesia’s Riau
published by Planet Ark 10 June 2003
JAKARTA – Thick haze blanketed the western Indonesian province of Riau yesterday as farmers stepped up slash-and-burn land clearing to prepare for next season’s crops. Such land clearing often spreads into raging forest fires. Fires on Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo regions in 1997 and 1998 cast a haze over a large swathe of southeast Asia, including Malaysia and Singapore.
Officials in the Riau provincial capital of Pekanbaru said sporadic electricity blackouts were thwarting efforts to monitor hotspots but business and schools were continuing to operate as usual and flight schedules remained unchanged. Riau, which is on Sumatra island, is across the Strait of Malacca from Malaysia and Singapore.
“This morning visibility was as low as one kilometre (about a half-mile) but the wind picked up by noon,” said Rasidin, an official from the Meteorological and Geophysics Agency in Pekanbaru. He said visibility later increased to around eight kilometres.
Fires have been burning in Riau for around two weeks and Nyoman Suamba, from the Environmental Supervisory Agency in Pekanbaru, said: “It’s extremely difficult to monitor and control the fires because there are limited facilities.”
Haze also covered parts of Borneo island, east of Riau, yesterday but officials there said people were still going about their daily routines. The haze in 1997 and 1998 cost regional economies $9 billion in damage to farming, transport and tourism.Conservationists have long criticised Jakarta for failing to protect its natural resources but Indonesia has said the country’s laws are too weak to deal with the problem.