Jakarta, Indonesia — Indonesia has rented two helicopters to help douse the fires that annually induce a choking haze that drifts across the region, a report said Tuesday.
“The government has brought in two helicopters to overcome the forest fires,” forestry minister Malem Sambet Kaban said, according to the Media Indonesia daily.
He said that the two Russian Kamov Ka-32A helicopters, rented from South Korea, will be deployed in West and Central Kalimantan, two provinces on the Indonesian part of Borneo that are among the areas most affected.
Kaban said that the number of “hot spots” in the two provinces was already on the rise, as Indonesia enters the peak season for the human-made blazes.
So far, wet weather and favourable winds have prevented an early onset of the smog that blankets parts of mainland Southeast Asia.
The minister said the fires were mostly lit on private farms to clear land of the remainder of the previous season’s crops, rather than in forested areas.
Despite a government ban on lighting the fires, weak enforcement and the cheapness of the clearing method mean it has persisted.
Activists insist the fires are also caused by palm oil plantations clearing tropical peatland areas to plant oil palms.
The helicopters are each capable of carrying up to 5,000 litres of water and have initially been rented for 320 flying hours at a cost of 26 billion rupiah (three million dollars), the minister said.
Haze from the fires sent air pollution levels in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore to unhealthy levels several times last year.
Experts warn that the haze contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions and could be impacting on climate change.