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  Yahoo News 5 Oct 06
Haze from Indonesia fires chokes region, spreads across Pacific
by Bhimanto Suwastoyo

PlanetArk 4 Oct 06
Smoke Haze Hangs Over Singapore as Indonesian Fires Rage

SINGAPORE - Forest fires in Indonesia have sent Singapore's Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) to the highest level this year, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Tuesday.

South-southwesterly winds have blown smoke from fires in central and south Sumatra to Singapore, obscuring sunlight and reducing temperatures and visibility, the NEA said on its Web site (http://app.nea.gov.sg/psi/).

The NEA said the city-state's PSI level reached 73 on Monday, although rain could bring some relief. A PSI reading between zero and 50 is considered "healthy", 51-100 "moderate" and 101-200 "unhealthy".

Each year, uncontrolled slash-and-burn practices by farmers, plantation owners and loggers on the Indonesian islands sends a smoky haze to Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand.

"Villagers open land by burning. They consider that after burning, the land will be fertile," said Parigan Syahrin, head of the mines, energy, and environment office in Banyuasin regency in South Sumatra.

The NEA said satellite pictures showed 97 hotspots and dense smoke haze in Sumatra, an Indonesian island west of Singapore. "The current dry weather conditions in southern parts of Sumatra are expected to persist until mid-October," the NEA said.

Purwasto, a senior official in Indonesia's Environment Ministry, told Reuters that the PSI reading was "more than 100" in the worst-hit parts of the country. "It is dangerous for human health," said Purwasto, who like many Indonesians uses one name.

Heavy haze in the central Sumatran province of Jambi led to the cancellation of some domestic flights, an airport official said. "The visibility is 500 metres," said Olan Simanjuntak, a spokesman for Sultan Thaha airport in Jambi. "We are very irritated (by the haze). Officials here are using masks."

The haze has also begun to envelop Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur, obscuring hills surrounding the city. But residents said it was nowhere near as bad as last year's choking smog.

The Borneo states of Sarawak and Sabah were the worst affected on Tuesday. In one area of Sarawak, which has been blanketed by heavy smog for weeks, the air-pollution index approached "very unhealthy" levels at the daily 0300 GMT reading.

Local media said authorities plan to seed clouds over Sarawak in an effort to clear the haze, but have not said when the operations will begin.

Yahoo News 5 Oct 06
Haze from Indonesia fires chokes region, spreads across Pacific
by Bhimanto Suwastoyo

JAKARTA (AFP) - A worsening acrid haze from land-clearing fires in Indonesia shut more schools here, disrupted travel in Malaysia and drifted thousands of kilometres across the Pacific, officials said.

The annual illegal burn-off in Indonesia, which officials have been accused of doing little to stop, sees choking smoke billow across the region, with Malaysia, Singapore and southern Thailand usually worst affected.

But on Thursday, the haze had spread 3,600 kilometres (2,250 miles) to smother islands in the western Pacific, authorities there said.

In the US-administered Northern Mariana Islands, the Emergency Management Office said the Indonesian fires were the source of haze over the islands.

In Guam, near to the Northern Marianas, acting governor Tim Villagomez said the haze was likely to persist for several days. Motorists were warned to take extra care because of the poor visibility.

The fires have been raging on jungle-clad Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo island, and Sumatra, closing schools in Indonesia, delaying flights and forcing residents to don face masks as they cope with the bad air.

Satellite images taken over Borneo on Wednesday showed that although the number of hotspots -- large areas with high temperatures indicating fires -- had dropped in West and Central Kalimantan to 395, the number in South Kalimantan had more than quadrupled from a day earlier to 561.

"The governor has ordered all schools, from kindergarten to high school, to close as of today (Thursday) and only reopen Monday," said West Kalimantan local official Emmy Putrimas, from the provincial capital Pontianak. Putrimas said people were wearing masks that were being distributed on the streets to try to cope with the deterioration in air quality.

Schools in Palangkaraya, the capital of neighbouring Central Kalimantan, were closed for three days on Tuesday and an aide to the head of the local education office said that it was likely this would be extended.

In Pontianak, visibility was less than 300 meters (yards) while in Palangkaraya, it was just 200 meters, meteorological officials there said. Health officials in both provinces have said that more people have been seeking medical help for respiratory ailments in recent weeks.

Flights in Indonesia's affected region have been delayed until midday each day for the past week.

In neighbouring Malaysia's Sarawak state air quality remained unhealthy in most areas, with Air Pollutant Index readings of between 106 to 188. The index considers haze levels of 100-200 to be unhealthy.

Travel was also affected. "The helicopter service, a key mode of transport in Sarawak, has been stopped due to poor visibility," an official with the Department of Civil Aviation in Sarawak's capital Kuching told AFP.

Three scheduled flights operated by Malaysia Airlines were also diverted on Wednesday due to poor visibility, he said.

In peninsular Malaysia, locations in five states, including the tourist destination of Malacca, posted unhealthy air quality between 101 and 116, up from two states on Wednesday.

The grey haze also enveloped Singapore on Tuesday.

In 1997-98 the haze cost the Southeast Asian region an estimated 9.0 billion dollars by disrupting air travel and other business activities.

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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