Indonesia Faces Heat for Slow Action Over Haze
Nurfika Osman & Fidelis E. Satriastanti
Jakarta. Haze is nothing new for Indonesia. It is now an annual phenomenon after affecting the country and the region for nearly three decades. Yet Indonesian officials on Thursday said data was still being gathered to detect the sources of the smog that this week began to blanket skies in the region.
Singaporean and Malaysian authorities have in the past two days lashed at Indonesia, blaming fires burning on Sumatra island for sending a thick smoke haze over their countries.
But officials at the Environment Ministry here appeared unfazed. “We haven’t received any official complaints from neighboring countries.
They can complain that the haze is originating in Indonesia.
However, it’s still a one-sided complaint. We still haven’t determined the source of the haze yet,” Ilyas Asaad, deputy minister for environmental communication and people’s empowerment, said at a press briefing.
Singapore’s Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim has told local media that the island republic was demanding that Indonesia deal with the recurring problem of forest fires on Sumatra.
The smoke haze has blanketed the sky over Singapore and some parts of the western coast of Malaysia.
Ibrahim was quoted by the Antara news agency as saying that Singapore was ready to offer Indonesia help to handle forest and bush fires widely blamed for the haze.
But he also said that if the situation worsened, environment ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations member states would have to meet to decide on what steps to take.
Yet, Agus Salim Lacuda, who heads the meteorology office at the Hang Nadim International Airport on Batam island just south of Singapore, told Antara that visibility was still at 6,000 meters and was not hampering flights.
Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said Kuala Lumpur was seeking “more cooperation” from Jakarta in tackling the haze problem, state news agency Bernama quoted him as saying.
“We want action before the haze spreads and becomes more detrimental to Malaysia,” he said.
The haze has prompted Malaysia to warn vessels in the Malacca Strait of poor visibility as short as 2 nautical miles and shut many schools.
Singapore, covered in thick smoke this week, saw its air pollution index hit the highest level since 2006 on Wednesday.
Ilyas said that haste in determining the source of the haze was out of the question because of the multitude of possibilities for the source of the smoke.
He said they could come from plantations’ land clearing operations, from slash and burn agriculture or even from natural causes, such as burning peat soil or underground coal seams.
The country had first come under the international glare after massive wildfires in Kalimantan and Sumatra were compounded by the El Nino weather phenomenon in 1982-83 and again in 1997-98, sending a thick choking smog that hung over the region for months, causing traffic and health hazards.
Ari, an official of the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency, or BMKG, said there were currently 83 hotspots detected in the country, 61 of them in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo island, and the remainder on Sumatra.
“Most of the hotspots are in Riau province [Sumatera] and in West Kalimantan province,” Ari said, adding that the number of fires was decreasing as on Wednesday it had been at 202, all in Kalimantan.
“The number is fluctuating and sometimes we are helped by the rain,” he said.
“The winds are blowing to the east until October 23, which means that Malaysia and Singapore will still experience haze from Indonesia,” Ari added.