Haze blanketed the Riau provincial capital of Pekanbaru over the last few days, sending an early warning of last year’s haze problem that nearly paralyzed the city and other parts of the province during the dry season. It had stopped raining over the city in the past two weeks, Antara reported on Thursday. Officials have said the smoke had likely come from land clearance activities, as farmers or forest squatters took advantage of the rainless days. As smoke engulfed the city, locals began complaining about limited visibility, respiratory and eye problems. “Smoke has started to become really annoying over the last two days. Even at night, when I go out the smoke is quite thick and burns my eyes,” said Jamris, a Pekanbaru local as quoted by Antara. Motorcyclists and drivers of public buses voiced similar complaints. “We arrive in Pekanbaru at dawn and we feel the smoke is quite thick. During the trip visibility was limited,” said M. Rusdi who drives between Pekanbaru and Medan. Head of the Riau conservation office, Jhon Kennedie said the rainy season was nearing its end which explained the reduced rainfall. Farmers and forest squatters have probably begun to burn bush land again to clear the land for their crops, he said. “We’ll soon start our bush fire drills,” said Jhon adding that this exercise was being held in anticipation that the fire would spread. Last year, haze reached alarming levels, affecting locals’ health as well as flight schedules to and from Pekanbaru.
In West Kalimantan’s capital city, Pontianak, haze has also returned, as temperatures in the city rose to 35 degrees Celsius, the highest this year, Antara reported. Head of the technical unit at the local meteorology and geophysics office, Maroni said the city’s temperature should remain at 30 degrees to 31 degrees Celsius at this time of the year. But over the past few days, it has climbed to around 34 degrees Celsius after two weeks without rain. Maroni warned that temperatures would continue to rise unless it rained, which would also reduce the haze problem. Locals are complaining of headaches and eye irritation when they go out in the heat and the haze. Maroni suggested that motorcyclists use masks. Smoke is considered harmful to human health if it reaches 300 on the Standard Air Pollution Index (ISPU). Pontianak recorded an ISPU of 600 in August last year. Singapore and Malaysia have also logged complaints about the annual smoke problem coming from bush and forest fires in Sumatra and West Kalimantan. Officials have blamed farmers and forest squatters behind the uncontrolled land clearance activities, which appeared to have continued despite promises made to stop them. Local governments also threatened to revoke the permits of plantation and logging companies if they continued to use cheap yet damaging land clearance methods.