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Haze returns to bring misery to Borneo JAKARTA - Choking haze from forest fires has returned to cover much of Indonesia's side of Borneo island, forcing residents to wear masks as the pollution index rises to three times world safety standards, officials said on Friday. Visibility in at least two provinces has dropped to as low as 50 metres over the past few days and all flights to and from Central Kalimantan's airport have been cancelled since the beginning of the month as the smoke has spread.
"It is an extremely dangerous level...we can say it's the highest during this year's dry season," said Hidayat, an official at the province's meteorology office, referring to a pollution index reading of 600 micrograms per cubic metre. The dry season begins around June in Kalimantan. Rain at the end of last month had reduced the haze but since the start of September smoke from farmers' slash-and-burn agriculture methods has again begun to cause problems.
Speaking to Reuters from Central Kalimantan's capital Palangkaraya, about 875 kilometres north of Jakarta, Hidayat said though there has been no wind to clear the smoke the pollution reading was still far below 1997 levels when the index hit 1,000. The official Antara news agency said cars were using their headlights even in the day and the head of Palangkaraya's airport said he didn't know when flights would resume.
"The (visibility) in the last four days has been the lowest, around 50 to 100 metres...it's impossible to operate flights," Jaka Sujana told Reuters. "I have distributed masks to my employees...our eyes are irritated and it is difficult for us to breathe," he added. Airport officials in Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan, said visibility there was also bad but it had improved to around 2,000 metres by the late afternoon.
Despite the poor air quality Antara said most schools remained open in both provinces. Thick haze from major fires on Borneo and Sumatra island in 1997 and 1998 spread to neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia and cost regional economies $9 billion in damage to farming, transport and tourism. Conservationists have long criticised Jakarta for failing to protect its natural resources but Indonesia has said the country's laws are too weak to deal with the problem.



Posted in Forest fires @ 13 September 2002 00:05 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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