Indonesia Must Brace for Haze

Indonesia Must Brace for Haze

29 June 2011

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Indonesia — As the country transitions into the dry season, a weather expert has warned that choking haze from forest burn-offs could again pose a major problem.

“The peak of the dry season is from July to August, with high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds possibly worsening fires and haze,” Kukuh Ribudiyanto, head of extreme weather and early warning systems at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), said on Wednesday.

Kukuh was referring to the large forest fires that usually happen every dry season, especially those set by farmers and plantations to clear land in preparation for the new planting season.

Although burn-offs are outlawed, enforcement has generally been weak. The resulting smoke from fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan in the past led to haze blanketing the entire country, and even spilling across into neighboring countries’ skies.

Kukuh said hotspots — areas of high temperatures shown on satellite imaging that usually signify fires — had already been registered in some parts of Sumatra such as South Sumatra, Aceh and Riau.

“Luckily, we’ve still had rains throughout the transition period from the rainy to the dry season. The rains have helped to minimize the fires,” he said. “But now with decreasing rains, we have to be extra careful.”

Warih Puji Lestari, an analyst at the BMKG’s Riau branch, said the situation there was not yet causing much worries because the concentration of haze was not too thick and wind speeds were still within normal range.

“The wind has moved from five to 15 kilometers per hour, and the concentration of the smoke is relatively normal — not too thick,” she said.

Warih said there was still a possibility the haze could reach neighboring countries if the wind got any stronger.

“But if current conditions remain stable, the chances of the haze reaching Malaysia and Singapore are very slim,” she said.

People in Riau, however, still needed to be on alert because the province was set to experience hot weather over the next few days, she added.

According to the Washington-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, of the 31 hotspots recently recorded in Sumatra, 28 were located in Riau.

Last month, thick haze from forest fires in Riau caused some flights to be delayed across the province. The haze also reached Malaysia and Singapore, forcing people to stay indoors.

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