Singapore — Haze from forest fires in Indonesia’s Riau islands is blowing towards Singapore, and the number of hot spots is rising although the situation is still far from the worst days of 2006.
There were 59 fires burning in Riau yesterday, up from 35 a day earlier, when the province’s main airport was shut for about 1-1/2 hours because of poor visibility and four flights were diverted.
‘Today, we are safe as the wind is blowing away the haze,’ said an officer at the Sultan Syarif QasimII International Airport in Pekanbaru yesterday.
In Sumatra, there were 160 hot spots yesterday. Most of them – 62 – were in Aceh, a fraction of the 8,000 hot spots recorded in 2006 during Singapore’s worst haze period in recent years.
No haze was reported in the seaports of Sumatra yesterday, according to a public relations officer at the Indonesian state port operator PT Pelindo II, which runs seaports in Jambi, Bengkulu, Lampung, Palembang, and Padang.
‘We are fine. No disturbance,’ said the officer, who declined to be identified.
The fires in Sumatra started after the government lifted a year-long moratorium on the use of peatland forests by palm oil companies, angering environmental groups which say the decision will contribute to global warming.
The Jakarta government will start issuing permits, which have been withheld since December 2007, immediately in areas that meet certain criteria, said Mr Ahmad Manggabarani, Indonesia’s director- general of plantation crops at the agriculture ministry.
But the ministry said it has set stricter rules for awarding new permits.
‘It will need tight control and monitoring to ensure that plantations on peatlands are well managed,’ said Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono.
The ministry estimates that two million hectares out of 25 million hectares of peatland are eligible for oil palm plantations.
Indonesia is the third-highest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind China and the United States.
Mr Ahmad said the decision to start re-issuing permits was to increase production of palm oil, which is used for cooking, cosmetics and as a biofuel. Indonesia is the world’s top producer of palm oil.
‘We are disappointed,’ said Mr Bustar Maitar, a Greenpeace South-east Asia forest campaigner. ‘We had hoped after a year, the freeze would be permanent.’