Posts Tagged ‘health alerts’

Haze and smoke crisis could persist into new year, say experts — Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore all impacted

October 20, 2015


Indonesia smoke — Smoke rising from fires burning at a concession area in Pelalawan, Riau province

The fires raging in forests and peatland across Indonesia, which produce the thick haze that has spread across South-east Asia in recent weeks, are unlikely to be put out in the next month or two.

This means the crisis could persist into the new year, experts said, as the latest reports show hot spots emerging in 18 provinces in the archipelagic state in the past few days.

“Maybe it will last until December and January,” Dr Herry Purnomo of the Centre for International Forestry Research said in a Reuters report yesterday. He added that there were also hot spots in Papua, a region usually spared such fires, because “people are opening new agriculture areas, like palm oil”.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo inspects a peatland clearing that was engulfed by fire during an inspection of a firefighting operation to control agricultural and forest fires in Banjar Baru in Southern Kalimantan province on Borneo island on Sept 23, 2015. AFP photo

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry yesterday said it was still investigating the cause of the fires in Papua. But its director-general of law enforcement, Mr Rasio Ridho Sani, said this year’s fires have reached an unprecedented level.

“We have never imagined we would ever see those lines of hot spots in Sulawesi and Papua,” he told reporters, pointing to a hot- spot map during the briefing.

The smouldering haze from the fires has spread across many parts of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Malaysia’s Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar was quoted in an Agence France-Presse report as saying that he expects the crisis to continue for another month. “Unless there is rain, there is no way human intervention can put out the fires.”

Indonesian national disaster management agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told The Straits Times: “Rain will start in December. It is impossible that we will still have the haze problem in January.”

Meanwhile, three cities on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao were also covered by thick smoke. Weather forecaster Gerry Pedrico told the  that the haze had been covering the cities of Davao, Cagayan de Oro and General Santos since last Saturday.

The end of Indonesia’s annual dry spell in October is usually marked by the start of the rainy season.

But the dry weather in Indonesia this year has been exacerbated by an extended El Nino season. This has made it harder to put out the fires, despite multinational firefighting operations in South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan – two of the worst-hit provinces in Indonesia.

Yesterday, a state of emergency was declared in North Sulawesi, which opened the doors for Jakarta to help contain the fires there.

Indonesian soldier watches as a helicopter water bomber releases its cargo over a peatland fire in Kampar, Riau, Sumatra

A water bomber that can carry 4,300 litres of water was being prepared for deployment in the province, one of the latest to be hit by fires, said Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar.

Her ministry yesterday also revoked the licences of two plantation companies and suspended four firms for allegedly using fire to clear land. It also ordered another four companies to procure adequate equipment to prevent and douse fires on their concessions.

Mr Tri Budiarto, who is in charge of emergency response at BNPB, said the forecast from Indonesia’s meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency indicates that in about a week, areas south of the Equator, which include South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan, should see rainfall.

“If this proves to be true later, God willing, our firefighting operations would get a lift,” he said.

The haze crisis seems to be showing no signs of abating, but the Joko Widodo government is doing all it can to resolve the fires, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said in Singapore yesterday.

Mr Luhut, who was speaking at the RSIS-Brookings-KADIN Distinguished Public Lecture, said on the sidelines of the event that two Russian-made Beriev Be-200 water bombers will be deployed today in South Sumatra’s Ogan Komering Ilir regency.

A general view of the causeway from Singapore to Johor Bahru (background) is obscured by haze on June 21, 2013. (AFP Photo) Many in Singapore say this year’s smoke is getting just this bad.

He will also be heading to areas badly hit by forest fires in South Sumatra today. “I will be there to see the progress of the firefighting operations and also get a briefing on the effectiveness of water bombing,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline ‘Haze crisis could persist into new year, say experts’.
A Doctor in Singapore told peace and freedom today that “the smoke and haze is now harmful to millions of lives.”


Indonesia fires can’t be put out, Malaysian minister warns

October 19, 2015


Monday, October 19, 2015

Facing growing pressure, Indonesia earlier this month agreed to accept international help after failing for weeks to douse the fires from slash-and-burn farming that have shrouded angry neighbours Malaysia and Singapore in smoke for weeks

International efforts to douse raging Indonesia fires will fail and Southeast Asia could face several more weeks of choking smoke until the rainy season starts, Malaysia’s environment minister warned on Monday.
Facing growing pressure, Indonesia earlier this month agreed to accept international help after failing for weeks to douse the fires from slash-and-burn farming that have shrouded angry neighbours Malaysia and Singapore in smoke for weeks.
But Malaysia was forced once again to close schools in several areas Monday due to unhealthy air, and Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the crisis could continue for another month.
“Unless there is rain, there is no way human intervention can put out the fires,” he told AFP on the sidelines of Malaysia’s parliament session, warning that the blazes were spread across “huge areas” of Indonesia.
Even the multi-nation effort now under way “is not enough to put out the fires,” he added.
“We hope the rains will come in mid-November. It will be able to put out the fires,” Wan Junaidi said.
On Friday, Indonesia launched its biggest fire-fighting assault yet, with dozens of planes and thousands of troops battling the illegally started agricultural and forest fires in its territory on the huge islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
Thirty-two planes and helicopters — including six aircraft from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia — were deployed to back up more than 22,000 personnel on the ground.
The fires and resulting region-wide haze are an annual dry-season problem, but experts warn the current outbreak is on track to become the worst ever, exacerbated by tinder-dry conditions from the El Nino weather phenomenon.
The acrid air has sparked health alerts, sent thousands to hospitals for respiratory problems, and caused the cancellation of scores of flights and some major international events across the region.
Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho also offered sobering comments Monday, saying the fires were “yet to be overcome.”
Sutopo said satellite data indicated Indonesia now had more than 1,500 “hotspots”, which are loosely defined as areas where fires are either burning or where conditions are ripe for blazes to break out.
“The actual number is higher as the satellite is not able to penetrate the thickness of the haze in Sumatra and (Borneo),” he added.
Malaysia enjoyed a brief spell of lowered haze last week, but the government — which has repeatedly ordered school closures across wide areas as a health precaution — did so again on Monday as skies once again reverted to the now-familiar soupy gray.
Schools were closed in several states and in the capital Kuala Lumpur as pollution levels climbed well into the “unhealthy” range under the government’s rating system.
Air quality in Singapore, however, improved Monday after entering “unhealthy” levels over the weekend.

Malaysia shuts schools as choking smog worsens

October 4, 2015


Persistent smog has afflicted large swathes of Southeast Asia for weeks, sparking health alerts, numerous school shutdowns and affecting flight

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysian authorities on Sunday ordered most of the country’s schools shut for two days because of possible health risks posed by the thick haze from Indonesian forest fires.

The education ministry said all schools, except a handful in outlying areas, must close their doors on Monday and Tuesday.

“The haze that is happening is beyond our control,” said Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid.

Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid

“This issue has to be addressed wisely and quickly as it can do harm to our children. We will not compromise with anything that may bring harm to our children in schools.”

The persistent smog has afflicted large swathes of Southeast Asia for weeks, sparking health alerts, numerous school shutdowns and affecting flights.

The pollution is on track to be the worst on record, surpassing the $9-billion damage recorded in 1997.

Close to half of Malaysia’s 52 pollutant monitoring stations around the country registered “unhealthy” air quality on Sunday.

Six stations, including one in Kuala Lumpur registered “very unhealthy” levels, with one area in the outskirts of the capital hovering close to the “hazardous” level.

While Malaysia, Singapore and large portions of Indonesia have for weeks choked on pungent Malaysia, US –Singapore from forest fires on Sumatra Island, the Philippine island of Cebu also suffered its seventh straight day of haze on Saturday.

Monsoon winds blowing northeast from the Indonesian blazes could have carried the smog, state weather forecaster Romeo Aguirre told AFP.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Sunday he hoped Indonesia could discuss long term measures to tackle the crisis.

“We hope its commitment is not only on paper or mere statements pleasant to the ears, but through implementation which could end all haze problems,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama.

The worsening haze has also affected key sporting events in the region.

The Singapore leg of the FINA World Championships — swimming’s World Cup — which included four-time US Olympic gold medallist Missy Franklin, was called off.

One of Malaysia’s biggest marathons set for Sunday was also cancelled because of health fears for the 30,000 runners, and local football league matches have been shelved.