Indonesia — As forest and plantation fires continue to rage over large parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan, the Indonesian authorities say they will start seeding clouds to induce rain in the coming days.
Tri Budiarto, the director of emergency response at the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), told The Straits Times yesterday that operations are expected to start later this week over both islands to complement ongoing water-bombing operations to put out fires.
“We have been on an emergency alert for the past three months, everybody has been in action,” he said.
“Ground firefighting efforts have been going on and will continue.” The stepped-up action comes amid flight delays and worsening visibility on parts of both islands in recent days.
September and October are often peak months for hot spots, and yesterday, the BNPB counted 281 hot spots in South Sumatra, 94 in Riau, 53 on Bangka and Belitung and 48 in Jambi provinces, in addition to 972 hot spots in three provinces in Kalimantan.
Forest fires in South Sumatra have seen the haze spread to Riau, where north-easterly winds tend to send it on to Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia. Visibility in parts of the province was down to 500m.
Singapore’s National Environment Agency said on its website yesterday that it had asked the Indonesian authorities for an urgent update on the ground situation and the measures being taken to stub out the hot spots.
Today, Indonesia’s Parliament is expected to take a vote on ratifying the Asean agreement on transboundary haze.
The Parliament’s delay in agreeing to ratify the pact, which Indonesia signed in 2002 alongside all Asean members, became a sticking point during last year’s haze, which saw pollutant levels reach record highs in Malaysia and Singapore.
Indonesia is the only Asean country that has yet to ratify the treaty.
Indonesian MPs had felt certain clauses infringed the country’s sovereignty, but Jakarta said Indonesia has to convince the international community of its commitment to resolve the haze issue.
Yesterday, air pollutant readings in Malaysia rose to moderate levels. Dr Ajisman Syafaat, a lung specialist at the Arifin Achmad state hospital in Pekanbaru, Riau, told The Straits Times that his city has been shrouded in a light haze since last Saturday.
“Hopefully, the government will do something soon,” he said. In Jambi, officials appealed to farmers and plantation companies not to use the slash-and-burn method to clear land.
The BNPB said it had deployed two helicopters for water-bombing operations in Riau, and deployed 300 soldiers and policemen to put out fires on the ground.
Three helicopters and 120 men were deployed in South Sumatra to fight fires.
BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the dry season is expected to continue till next month.