Haze blankets parts of Sumatra, Kalimantan

Thick smog is blanketing much of Sumatra and Kalimantan islands as forest fires spread amid concerns about the adverse effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon, officials said. 

Satellite images showed hundreds of hotspots indicating forest fires in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan, said Sutopo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency.

“As the drought worsens, forest fires are spreading,” Sutopo said.

A haze emergency was declared in Kutawaringin Timur in Central Kalimantan province on Wednesday after air pollution reached hazardous levels, said local government spokesman Mustazam.

The emergency period is expected to last until October, he said.

Haze has also disrupted flights at Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II airport in Palembang, resulting in several delays on Wednesday, an airport official said.

Sutopo said the government was deploying thousands of soldiers, police and members of the Forestry Ministry’s fire-fighting squads to extinguish the forest fires.

Four aircraft had been sent to Sumatra to drop water and create artificial rain, he said.

The government has warned that El Nino would result in a prolonged dry spell and more forest fires.

The Agriculture Ministry has predicted that El Nino could damage 200,000 hectares of rice fields, or about 1-2 million tons of rice crops.

President Joko Widodo warned that legal action would be taken against those who deliberately start fires to clear land.

The drought has hit parts of Indonesia including Java, South Sulawesi, Bali and Nusa Tenggara Timur, resulting in clean water shortages.

Experts said El Nino is expected to last until October.

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