Haze from fires worsens

Haze from fires worsens

17 October 2006

published by thestandard.com.hk

Indonesia — Brush fires on Indonesia’s Borneo andSumatra islands have caused flight cancelations and health warnings, promptingappeals for the central government to intensify measures against the haze thathas reached Singapore and Malaysia.

Neighboring Southeast Asian nations last week called on Indonesia to swiftlyratify a regional treaty to fight cross-border haze, saying they would delayfinancial assistance if it does not.

Environmental Minister Rachmat Witoelar said Monday it was only a matter oftime until legislators amended laws needed to ratify the ASEAN Agreement onTransboundary Haze Pollution. “We are not alone in fighting the haze,”he said.

Meanwhile, smoke from more than 100 land- clearing fires in Sumatra’s Jambiprovince reduced visibility to less than 50 meters, said local governmentofficial Donny Osmon.

“The condition was so bad that officials were forced to close theairport today for safety’s sake,” he said.

In neighboring Riau province, uncontrolled fires destroyed at least 100hectares of conservation area for Sumatran elephants at the Tesso Nilo NationalPark, possibly forcing them to leave the protected habitat.

Malaysia and Singapore said the air quality worsened Monday as smoke returnedto their skies over the weekend. Singapore’s environment agency advised peopleto reduce outdoor activity as people complained of stinging eyes and throat. Theair pollution index reached 127, in the “unhealthy” range above 100,according to the National

Environment Agency’s Website.

“The haze has become dangerous to people’s health,” said GovernorZulkifli Nurdin of Jambi province, who asked Jakarta to boost efforts to stopthe blazes with cloud seeding and firefighters.

Jakarta said it is cracking down on those responsible for the fires, havingarrested 300 people and filed lawsuits against six companies this year. Thedry-season haze has plagued Southeast Asia every year since the 1990s, stokingregional tensions and focusing attention on cash-strapped Indonesia’s inabilityto enforce its own laws.


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