Indonesia: Thick haze in Indonesia could threaten neighbours
21 February 2002
JAKARTA – Thick smoke hung over some areas of Sumatra yesterday, threatening Indonesia’s neighbours with a replay of air pollution problems that have sporadically plagued the region in recent years. The head of the Environmental Impact Control Office in Indonesia’s Riau province on Sumatra, just across the Strait of Malacca from Singapore and Malaysia, said smog caused by forest fire was obscuring the sky. “The haze is still there. In some areas like Dumai and Bengkalis the haze is quite thick. We spotted 222 hot spots…in Riau based on February 17 data,” Naili Saidi told Reuters by telephone from the provincial capital of Pekanbaru. There were also 38 hot spots identified in Malaysia, he said. “We have been suffering (from the smoke) since the first week of this month. Sometimes it makes it difficult for us to carry out our daily activity,” he said, adding he hoped for rain soon. Indonesian media reports said some Sumatra residents were wearing masks to protect themselves. Haze has been a regional concern since the mid-1990s. In one of the worst episodes smoke persisted for weeks in 1997, forcing many offices and schools to close, sparking warnings for the young and elderly to stay indoors, and being blamed for respiratory and other health problems. Tourism in large parts of Southeast Asia was also hit.
INDONESIA CRITICIZED Indonesia has drawn the bulk of the criticism for the outbreaks of smoke, attributed to causes ranging from fires started in the process of logging and clearing of land for plantations to slash-and-burn farming. Sumatra and Indonesian areas of Borneo have been the main fire locations. Singapore said this week it could encounter some haze from forest fires in neighbouring countries in the coming months. “There have been land and forest fires in parts of the region,” the Ministry of Environment and Meteorological Services Singapore said in a joint statement. The statement said the region was experiencing a prolonged period of dry weather. Malaysian authorities said this week a dry spell had left more than 15,000 hectares of land scorched by forest and peat fires in the country over the past weeks, prompting a government ban on open burning. Pollution readings in Singapore have so far remained healthy despite its proximity to Sumatra and Malaysia. Singapore skies are expected to stay clear in the next two weeks, the statement said. But changing winds could bring some smoke in the subsequent two months. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said this week the odds of an El Nino weather event occurring in the tropical Pacific region were double the normal level of risk this year, which could bring more dry weather to the region in the coming three months. Malaysia hopes heavy rain forecast for March will help douse some of the fires.