S’pore ready to assist Indonesia tackle forest fires: Dr Balakrishnan

S’pore ready to assist Indonesia tackle forest fires: Dr Balakrishnan 

14 September 2011

published by www.todayonline.com

Singapore — Environment and Water Resrouces Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said the Republic is ready to assist Indonesia to cope with the forest fires and tackle the haze, as hazy conditions in Singapore remained moderate yesterday.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a community event yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan said: “We have a team on standby to help with putting out fires as well or even with cloud seeding, as well as technical assistance. But really it depends on whether the Indonesians request or require our assistance. We’ll just put ourselves on standby.”

Smoke from fires set by slash-and-burn farmers to clear land has forced the closure of at least one airport in western Indonesia, AP reported.

Airport official Abiyoso said yesterday that the smoke was so thick that the authorities had no choice but to shut down Sultan Taha airport on Sumatra island, a day after flights were disrupted due to the thick haze covering much of Jambi, Indonesia.

Flights bound for Jambi had to land in Palembang on Sunday after thick smog pushed visibility below the required level under national flight safety regulations, with visibility at just 500 to 1,000 metres, reported the Jakarta Globe.

As of 4pm, Singapore’s 24-hour PSI reading was 57 – within the moderate range – but Dr Balakrishnan warned that the haze may return early next week should there be changes in wind direction.

“I just came back from Africa. I saw them burning agricultural land as well. They find it a quick and cheap way to clear agricultural land,” he said. “But one particular problem we have in this part of the world is that the land has a lot of peat in it. So once you start a fire, even after fire has gone out, the peat in the soil continues to smoulder for a very long time. And that contributes to an increased haze and smokiness that you see in our part of the world.

“So there’s still a lot of education and persuasion that’s needed on the ground as well as enforcement by the relevant authorities,” he added.

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