Fires Causing Haze in Riau May Close Airport

Fires Causing Haze in Riau May Close Airport

04 August 2011

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Indonesia — Thick haze from forest and ground fires has once again blanketed parts of Riau, especially the city of Dumai, drastically reducing visibility, an official said Wednesday.

The Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency or BMKG said on Wednesday that a total of 131 “hotspots”— areas in satellite images indicating high temperature and most likely the presence of fire — were found in the province, reducing visibility to as little as 800 meters.

Ministry of Transportation spokesman Bambang Ervan, said there was a possibility notification would soon have to be issued to pilots warning of impaired visibility.

He said that if visibility weaken to below 1 kilometer, the Sultan Syarif Qasim II International Airport in the Riau capital, Pekanbaru, will be temporarily shut down.

However, he said that so far no flights have been canceled or delayed even though the haze had also now drifted to neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

“We hope conditions will improve. We need related parties such as local governments and forest rangers to help reduce the hotspots,” he said.

BMKG official said that there were 298 hotspots for the whole of Sumatra on Wednesday, with Riau accounting for more than 44 percent.

However, BMKG said there was a good chance the number of hotspots could decrease in coming days since the weather is forecast to be cloudy with a small chance of light rain.

Experts have said that the haze occurs each year because people and companies continue to burn forests, a cheap method of clearing land.

The practice is illegal but enforcement has been poor because of the shortage of law enforcers and the wide area of forested land involved.

Since the 1990s, Indonesia has been criticized internationally for the large amount of smoke it generates each dry season from deliberate burning in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The resulting haze sometimes spreads to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and is estimated to annually cause $9 billion in losses to tourism, transportation and agriculture across the region.

An agreement among Southeast Asian nations was drawn up in 2002 to jointly tackle the haze problem, but ironically, Indonesia is the only nation that has yet to ratify it.

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