Indonesia Says El Nino May Slow Efforts to Put Out Forest Fires

IndonesiaSays El Nino May Slow Efforts to Put Out Forest Fires

18 October 2006

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Indonesia — Indonesia, which has battled forest fires that have caused ahaze in the region for two months, said efforts to put out the flames couldsuffer because a weather pattern known as El Nino may delay rains.

El Nino, the warming of the ocean off the west coast of South America thatcreates unusual weather patterns in parts of the world, may delay the monsoon bya month, Indonesia’s Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said. The governmenthad predicted the rains would start in the next three weeks, he said.

“We could have stopped the fires faster if we had more water,” Witoelartold reporters in Jakarta. “We can’t do cloud seeding because there aren’tenough clouds.”

The worst El Nino on record exacerbated the haze from Indonesian forest firesin 1997 and 1998 and caused economic losses of almost $9 billion after travelersshunned the region and health-care costs increased. It’s difficult to put outfires in Indonesian forests because peat, which consists of forest litterdeposited over centuries, is highly combustible and continues to burn under thesurface.

“There are a number of areas that are impossible to deal with because thefire has spread deep into the interior of the peat lands,” Witoelar said. Theareas include those in Jambi in Sumatra and Central Kalimantan and WestKalimantan on Borneo island, he said.

The U.S. National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration on Sept. 13 said onits Web site that El Nino conditions have started to develop and will continue“into early 2007.”

“During the last 30 days, drier-than-average conditions have been observedacross all of Indonesia, Malaysia and most of the Philippines, which are usuallythe first areas to experience” the El Nino-related impact, the U.S. agency saidin a statement. “This dryness can be expected to continue, on average, for theremainder of 2006.”


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