Official: Indonesian Haze could hit Singapore soon

IN JAKARTA – The haze over Riau could hit Singapore soon as wind speeds change, the head of the local weather station said on Friday.

“Wind movement that was previously from the north and east to the south has begun to reverse, so there’s a chance the haze could reach Singapore,” said Mr Sugarin, head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) station in Pekanbaru.

But its impact on Singapore was not likely to be severe, he told a coordinating meeting of the task force tackling the haze at the city’s airbase, as satellites detected 395 hotspots in mainland Sumatra on Friday morning, 359 of them in Riau.

The Meteorological Service Singapore forecasted in an advisory on Friday night that prevailing northeasterly winds would keep the haze in Sumatra away from the Republic for the next few days. It added, however, that “occasional slight haze” may occur “under stable atmospheric conditions, particularly in the morning”.

It detected 138 hotspots in Sumatra yesterday, up from 62 on Thursday. Of these, 70 were in the Riau province, where “widespread smoke haze” was visible.

In Indonesia, the haze also affected visibility in Medan, North Sumatra, and Padang, West Sumatra, and prevented helicopters from carrying out water-bombing operations in Riau in the morning, a day after the Government stepped up efforts to tackle this year’s early onset of the haze amid a prolonged dry spell across the region.

Riau police chief, Brigadier-General Condro Kirono, told reporters 26 persons had been named suspects for burning land in recent weeks, and seven companies were also being investigated for involvement in burning. He did not want to name the companies yet.

As schools stayed closed and over 20,000 people reported respiratory illnesses, Mr Willem Rampangilei, deputy for the environment at the coordinating ministry for people’s welfare, told The Straits Times he hoped current conditions would convince Parliament to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

A group of MPs will meet government officials on Monday to discuss the ratification, a month after Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya told them Jakarta had to convince the international community of its commitment to resolve the problem of transboundary haze pollution.

Indonesia is the only Asean country that has yet to ratify the treaty, which all members signed in 2002, as Indonesian MPs had felt certain clauses infringed on the country’s sovereignty.

On Friday, a strongly-worded editorial in The Jakarta Post urged MPs to ratify the treaty “as it would help Riau province handle its state of emergency”.

Raging fires over the past week prompted Riau governor Annas Maamun to declare emergency status on Wednesday, and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono instructed the national disaster management authority to tackle the matter immediately.

“A ratified treaty, which has been sitting around for over a decade, would enable neighbouring countries to send firefighters, helicopters, airplanes for water bombing to douse forest fires, and all other necessary help within a matter of hours or less,” the paper said, noting that it would also enable inter-country cooperation on haze alerts and facilitate training for farmers to enable them to use safer methods rather than slash-and-burn cultivation.

“Manmade practices, either for profit or survival, are damaging the climate, but blind, stubborn decision makers also seek profit from whipping up nationalist sentiment that gets in the way of neighbourly cooperation and our international obligation to ensure that the exploitation of our resources, which is a sovereign right, does not harm others,” it added.

Yesterday, at least one preacher in Riau reminded worshippers at Friday prayers that burning land was a sin, citing an Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) fatwa from Kalimantan on the matter in 2006.

Riau news portal cited the Nahdlatul Ulama head in Indragiri Hilir regency, Ustaz HM Zayadi, saying: “We can see for ourselves how the general public is in misery as a result of forest fires that cause thick haze and paralyse all economic activity.”

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