Haze chokes Sumatra

Haze chokes Sumatra

12 June 2009

published by www.straitstimes.com

Indonesia — The dreaded haze has returned to parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan, despite efforts by Indonesia to curb the use of slash-and-burn methods to clear land for planting.

Smoke from forest fires in Sumatra has reached the coastal province of Riau, but not the Riau Islands province off the coast of Singapore.

The past two weeks have seen a rise in the number of patients at local clinics complaining of haze-related ailments such as respiratory problems and sore eyes.

Visibility in the Riau city of Dumai dropped to a low of 30m yesterday, forcing motorists to turn on their headlights even at midday. However, a downpour yesterday evening offered some respite and more rain is expected.

‘We are likely to see occasional, localised rains in the Sumatra area until next week or so,’ Mr Kuku Ribudianto, a spokesman for the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (BMKG) in Jakarta, told Elshinta Radio.

Nevertheless, the haze is likely to remain a threat until August at least. The rainy season usually begins in September.

Despite a ban on open burning, some farmers in Sumatra and Kalimantan are still clearing land by cutting down vegetation and burning it.

But Indonesia has insisted that its efforts to stop such practices – and thus the haze – are paying off.

Mr Nur Alim, a spokesman for BMKG in Pekanbaru, Riau, told The Straits Times: ‘We are seeing fewer cases as the government has stepped up campaigns against illegal burning. Farmers have been told it’s a crime and they can be thrown in jail.’

Those caught and convicted of illegal burning face up to 15 years in jail.

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