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Haze from forest fires paralyses Indonesia airports MUSI BANYUASIN - Thick smoke from forest fires in Indonesia has shut airports and slashed visibility to below 100 metres (330 ft) -- and there is no respite in sight, officials said on Wednesday. The fires have been raging for weeks, spreading smoke across much of Southeast Asia and triggering fears of a repeat of the environmental disaster in 1997-98 when dry conditions linked to the El Nino weather pattern caused a choking haze that cost the region billions of dollars in economic losses.

Jakarta has appealed for funds and equipment from neighbours Singapore and Malaysia, which have also suffered from the haze coming primarily from the Indonesian provinces on Sumatra and Borneo islands. At Sultan Thaha airport in Sumatra's Jambi province, all flights were cancelled this week. "It is not possible (to fly) at the moment. The visibility is terribly limited. The minimum should be 1,800 to 2,000 metres. Now, it is under 100 metres," airport head Basuki Mardiyanto told Reuters. Mardiyanto is not counting on anything but the onset of heavy rain when the dry season ends to resolve the problem.

Indonesia's six-month rainy season usually starts in October but it may come late this year in many areas or has started with only low intensity in others. "Rain started a week ago but was localised and with low intensity. Such intensity will only add moisture above hotspots, especially those in peat land. Automatically, this causes more smoke," said Remus Lumban Tobing, head of Jambi's weather office. Peat fires are hard to put out and can burn for months. "The pessimistic view is a long wait until there is high intensity of rain. Our prediction is in November," he said by telephone from Jambi, 630 km northwest of Jakarta.

Erratic rains

In neighbouring Musi Banyuasin region, villagers are concerned about fires spreading to residential areas. "There is a fire 50 metres away from the house. We have tried to put it out but it keeps on burning again and again," said Nurlaila Wati, who lives in a village near plantations. "We are scared that when the wind blows hard, the fire can jump to the house," the mother of five told Reuters next to a scorched paddy field.

Heavy rain has fallen in West Kalimantan province where the main airport has been closed since Monday, but the pattern of rain has been erratic and the airport is expected to stay shut throughout the week. "There was thundering rain last Wednesday and more three days ago but conditions have not improved," said provincial spokesman Citra Duani.

Indonesia's neighbours have grown increasingly frustrated over the fires, most of which are deliberately lit by farmers as well as timber and palm oil plantation owners. Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said last week police had detained more than 300 people and had six court cases against firms. There have in practice been few convictions though.

Environment ministers from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei failed to reach a detailed attack plan when they gathered last week in Indonesia's Riau province on Sumatra island to discuss the crisis. Indonesian officials have said forces of nature and social conditions severely limit the effectiveness of the government's fire suppression measures, and have called for ASEAN aid. But neighbours want Jakarta to ratify an Association of South East Asian Nations haze treaty before expecting major funding.


Link to related event Related event:
Forest fires

Related blog entries (category 'Forest fires') Related blog entries (category 'Forest fires'):
12 October 2006 · Indonesia apologizes to its neighbors for smoke haze
09 October 2006 · Rains bring relief to some areas in haze-shrouded Indonesia
08 October 2006 · Malaysia urges Indonesia to ratify cross-border haze pact
08 October 2006 · Air quality in Singapore improves after PSI hit high of 150
06 October 2006 · Haze brings misery, health problems in Indonesia


Posted in Forest fires @ 18 October 2006 12:04 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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