Haze returns to Sumatra

Forest fires have returned to Sumatera island as haze cloaked much of Pekanbaru and other areas in Riau province, said the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB).

Satellite images showed hundreds of hotspots over the weekend, indicating the presence of forest and peat fires on Sumatera, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

“Visibility in Pekanbaru was only one kilometer because of the fog coming from forest fires; while the visibility in Dumai, Pelalawan and Rengat was three kilometer,” Sutopo said.

Fires have also spread to other provinces on Sumatera, with dozens of hotspots detected in South Sumatra, Jambi, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Bengkulu, Bangka-Belitung, Lampung, and the Riau Islands province.

He also said that forest fires posed a real threat to health unless action was taken by local governments.  Many of the fires are believed to have been started deliberately by farmers and companies engaging in the slash-and-burn practice.

Prevention, according to Sutopo, is key to combating the annual haze problem as the El Nino phenomena will prolong the dry season until November this year.

“Otherwise we would have forest and plantation fires as we have experienced in previous years. We should not focus on just extinguishing fires, but we need to step up prevention,” he said.

BNPB has beefed up efforts to put out the fires by launching several cloud-seeding operation to create artificial rain over the Riau and South Sumatra province using two aircrafts. The agency has also hired three choppers with 4500 liters  of water capacity to extinguish forest fires.

Antara state news agency reported that between January and June, firefighters in the Riau province extinguished fires in at least 10 forest and plantation areas.

Haze from forest fires often travels to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, sending air quality to hazardous levels in the neighbouring countries.

Last year Indonesia became the last ASEAN nation to ratify an agreement on transboundary haze.

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