Indonesia holiday travel hit as haze shuts airports

Indonesia holiday travel hit as haze shutsairports

23 October 2006

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Indonesia — Airports on Indonesia’s Sumatra island were shut or operatingreduced services on Monday after rains failed to clear smoke from forest firesthat cut visibility to just 200 metres, officials said.

The haze has piled on extra misery for travellers during a peak Muslimholiday period this week when Indonesians go back to their home towns andvillages for Eid al-Fitr festivities marking the end of the fasting month ofRamadan.

Sultan Thaha airport in Sumatra’s Jambi province, where flights have beencancelled since last week, remained closed on Monday. The airport handles around13 flights a day.

“There has been no decision whether it will open tomorrow,” saidairport spokesman Olan Simanjuntak.

“It’s getting worse, it was raining last night but it has not improvedthe situation,” he added.

If rains are not sustained they can actually cause more smoke on burningland, particularly peat lands where fires are notoriously difficult to douse.

The fires have been raging for weeks, spreading smoke across much ofSoutheast Asia and triggering fears of a repeat of the environmental disaster in1997-98 when dry conditions linked to the El Nino weather pattern caused achoking haze that cost the region billions of dollars in economic losses.

Authorities briefly closed another airport in Sumatra on Monday due to poorvisibility.

The airport in the southern Sumatra city of Palembang has been overflowingwith travellers after flights to Jambi were diverted there.

“The haze forced us to close the airport again,” Slamet Ditikno, anofficial at the control tower of Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin airport, told Reuters.

Flights resumed in the morning after visibility improved from 200 metres (650ft) to more than 1,000 metres, another airport official said, adding that fiveflights had been delayed.


Indonesia’s disaster agency has leased two Russian amphibious fire-fightingplanes to help in the battle, the Jakarta Post reported on Monday.

Indonesia’s neighbours have grown increasingly frustrated over the fires,most of which are deliberately lit by farmers or by timber and palm oilplantation owners.

But environment ministers from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand andBrunei failed to agree on a detailed plan of attack when they met in Sumatra onOct. 13.

The holiday travel chaos was not confined to haze-shrouded Sumatra.

In heavily populated Java island, traffic jams stretching more than 10 km (6miles) were reported at the weekend on the Indramayu-Cirebon section of the roadnetwork on the northern coast. Police reported a string of deadly car accidents.

The number of vehicles heading out of the greater Jakarta area was nearlyeight million, 54 percent up on last year, Kompas newspaper reported, citingTransport Ministry data.


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