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  BBC 8 Oct 06
Indonesia urged to aid smog fight

Yahoo News 8 Oct 06
Singapore's smoke haze clears but may return: officials

Channel NewsAsia 8 Oct 06
Singaporeans breathing easier with better air quality in Singapore
By Farah Abdul Rahim

Bernama 8 Oct 06
Indonesia Welcomes Najib's Proposal To Pool Resources To Fight Haze

PlanetArk 9 Oct 06
Haze Brings Misery, Health Problems in Indonesia
Story by Beawiharta

PELALAWAN, Indonesia - Thick smoke from bush and forest fires in Indonesia has forced schools to close and brought misery to residents, officials said on Friday, with no sign of firefighters in one hard-hit area.

A vast blanket of smoke, or haze as it is known locally, occurs every year in Indonesia, angering neighbours Singapore and Malaysia who have long demanded Jakarta do more to stop the dry-season fires being lit by farmers and big companies.

This year's haze appears to be worse than last year and has rekindled memories of a choking cloud of smoke that covered a large part of Southeast Asia in 1997-98, sickening large numbers of people and costing local economies billions of dollars.

Students in Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan province, and other areas on the Indonesian side of Borneo island have been told to stay at home since Tuesday due to the worsening haze, said Beryn, an official at the local education ministry.

He said he and his family had been forced to use masks even at home and people complained of headaches, nausea and respiratory problems. "I'm telling you honestly, my eyes hurt. We breathe with difficulty and our throats are dry and itchy," he told Reuters.

The smoke from bush and forest forest fires on Borneo and Sumatra island is an annual regional hazard during the dry season but this year's haze appeared worse than last year, Beryn said.

Around Pelalawan town in Riau Province on Sumatra island, there was no sign of firefighters on Friday with charred tree-stumps, amid pockets of burning, visible in all directions. Visibility was cut to around 200 metres (660 ft) and many locals, who were not wearing face masks, could be heard coughing.

Fires have also spread to the Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan, Yohanes Sudarto, the head of the local nature conservation agency, told Elshinta news Web site. Four firefighting teams had been sent to the park to extinguish the blazes, he said.

In Malaysia, the environment minister was quoted as lashing out at Jakarta, saying the problem would go on as long as Indonesia did not ratify a regional treaty on haze.


In Singapore, the National Environment Agency said the air quality on Friday was the worst so far this year, with the Pollutants Standards Index at 80, up from 73 on Monday. A PSI reading between zero and 50 is considered "healthy", 51-100 "moderate" and 101-200 "unhealthy".

But air quality in peninsular Malaysia appeared to have improved slightly on Friday although air quality readings in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo remained in the unhealthy zone.

Most of the fires are deliberately lit. Timber and oil palm plantation companies have often been blamed for burning to clear land. Farmers, too, use slash-and-burn methods, a traditional practice magnified by a growing population, demand for land and the vast areas of forest that have been cleared in recent decades.

It is illegal to carry out slash-and-burn clearing in Indonesia, but prosecutions take time and few have stuck.

A particular concern this year is an increasing number of fires on peatland, which is highly flammable, producing more smoke and carbon emissions than other soil types. Peat fires can burn for months.

Galvanised by the 1997-98 fires, Southeast Asian countries signed the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002, but Indonesia has yet to ratify the pact that calls for cooperation and mobilisation of resources to tackle the problem.

Indonesia's Forestry Minister Malem Sambat Kaban on Thursday rebuffed neighbouring nations' complaints, arguing that a tireless drive involving thousands of people and costing many thousands of dollars was under way to put the fires out.

Environmental group Greenpeace urged Jakarta on Thursday to "break the cycle of fire and haze" threatening the health of millions across the region. It blamed big industrial concerns for being behind many of the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, home to endangered animals such as orangutans, tigers and the Asian elephant.

Land tenure disputes have also been blamed for pushing others to set fires, WWF Indonesia, a conservation group, has said.

Local sources also point to limited government budgets and difficulty enforcing national policy locally.

(Additional reporting by Ahmad Pathoni and Diyan Jari in JAKARTA and Jalil Hamid in KUALA LUMPUR and Mia Shanley in SINGAPORE)

BBC 8 Oct 06
Indonesia urged to aid smog fight

Malaysia has urged its neighbour Indonesia to sign up to regional plans for fighting pollution from forest-clearance fires.

A thick haze has been spreading across several countries, with visibility in some places down to 200 metres. Indonesia is the only country in the 10-member Asian regional grouping not to formally approve plans to co-ordinate a response to open burning.

The situation has forced Singapore to issue a health warning.

Large parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have been hit by smog from illegal bush fires burning on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

'Costing billions'

Pungent smoke from the fires is an annual problem across south-east Asia during the dry season. Flights have been cancelled, cars have put their headlights on in the middle of the day and Singapore has warned citizens against taking exercise outdoors.

The worst case of smog ever recorded was in 1997, when a choking cloud engulfed large areas of south-east Asia, costing local economies billions of dollars.

Our correspondent in Kuala Lumpur, Jonathan Kent, says the the smoke form this year's fires is less severe than last year but the fact that the annual smog has reappeared at all has caused annoyance.

Waiting for Indonesia

Saying Indonesia was "dragging its feet", Malaysia also asked for offending firms to be prosecuted.

Malaysian Environment Minister Azmi Khalid said he did not know why Indonesia was "dragging its feet" over the agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (THP) approved in 2002 by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The THP agreement envisages the creation of a regional co-ordinating centre for reacting rapidly to the haze, which is mostly attributed to slash-and-burn farming methods.

Mr Amzi told the BBC that his counterparts in Indonesia assured him in June that they had plans in place to prevent a repeat of the haze. However, he says these do not seem to be working.

Indonesia has outlawed using fire for land clearance but the laws are widely flouted in remote areas of the country and the government seems helpless to control the situation, says the BBC's Lucy Williamson in Jakarta.

Environmentalists say the problem has become more serious in recent years due to timber and oil palm companies clearing land for plantations. "The fires are seasonal and very predictable, but the government never implements effective measures to prevent and manage them," a spokesman for Indonesian environmental group Save Our Borneo, told AFP news agency.

Channel NewsAsia 8 Oct 06

Singaporeans breathing easier with better air quality in Singapore
By Farah Abdul Rahim

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans are breathing easier, as air quality over the skies of Singapore improved, with the Pollutant Standards Index falling back into the good range from 8am on Sunday morning.

The 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index continued to slip further to a low of 27 by midday. In the afternoon, it slowly climbed up again to 35 by 4pm, while staying under 50.

This was a sharp contrast to the hazy conditions over Singapore on Saturday which reached a 9-year record high of 150 on Saturday night.

The change in wind direction with the south-southeasterly winds helped to blow the bulk of smoke haze from the fires in southern Sumatra, leading to an improvement over the skies of Singapore.

However, the prevailing wind direction changed from the late afternoon, slowly bringing in the smoke haze from Sumatra to Singapore yet again. While the 3-hour PSI which is taken from the average over the past 3 hours has dipped, the health advisory from the National Environment Agency remains - as the 24 hour PSI which calculates the average PSI from 4pm on Saturday to 4pm on Sunday is still above 100, in the unhealthy range.

Those with chronic heart or lung diseases should reduce physical exertion and outdoor activity, while the general population should reduce vigorous outdoor activity.

Latest satellite pictures showed 42 hotspots in Sumatra, mainly in Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra. The agency says the small number of such hotspots detected was due to cloud cover, while more voices in Singapore are calling for the problem to be resolved.

"This is something we alone cannot do. No matter how we want this haze to go away, we can't. But I think our government should take this up within the ambit of ASEAN, and make it very clear to the Indonesian government that this is not a situation we want to see every year because it is unfair to people in the region who have to suffer this problem whether it's Singapore, Malaysia or other parts of the region," said Halimah Yacob, Chairman, Government Parliamentary Committee for Health.

The public can go online for hourly updates of the 3-hour PSI at National Environment Agency (NEA) website The relevant health advisory will also be updated and posted on the website, depending on the severity of the haze situation.

If the 24-hr PSI goes beyond 150, the public is advised to obtain respiratory masks which can be bought from most pharmacies. Should the situation go into the very unhealthy range (when the PSI hits between 201 and 300), the public is advised to avoid unnecessary outdoor activities and to stay in a room equipped with a portable air cleaner. - CNA /dt

Yahoo News 8 Oct 06
Singapore's smoke haze clears but may return: officials

SINGAPORE (AFP) - A thick haze that enveloped Singapore's skies and triggered a health advisory has cleared up, but the city-state's environment agency warned the smog caused by Indonesian forest fires could return.

Singapore's three-hour average Pollutant Standard Index eased to 37 at 1000 GMT from Saturday's peak of 150, a nine-year high. A reading of 0-50 is good while anything between 101-200 is unhealthy.

But the National Environment Agency said in a statement a change in wind direction after late afternoon Sunday could see the readings rise again. "The winds will then change to southwesterly direction and bring in the smoke haze from Sumatra to Singapore," the agency said.

Singapore has been hit by the fog-like haze, which has a burning smell, for several days and issued a health advisory Saturday suggesting people should cut outdoor activity.

Singapore's Environment Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said the city-state had told Indonesia that it was necessary to control the forest fires, which are lit to clear land, quickly. "We told our Indonesian colleagues of our concerns that the air quality has already deteriorated ... and we impressed upon the Indonesian officials to suppress the forest fires as quickly as possible," he was quoted as saying in the Sunday Times.

He said Singapore had offered to help Indonesia douse the fires through cloud-seeding to induce rain and to assist Indonesian farmers in land clearing, but Jakarta had yet to take up the offer.

Meanwhile haze was thickening Sunday in the Indonesian part of Borneo island as the number of forest fires there was reportedly increasing, especially in the province of central Kalimantan, officials said. "It is definitively much denser than yesterday (Saturday) especially since we have a high level of humidity here," Hidayat, the head of the meteorology station in Palangkaraya, central Kalimantan's capital, told AFP.

He added that visibility since daylight had remained around just 20 meters. Data from satellite images taken Saturday afternoon showed a total of 1,710 hotspots -- areas with high temperatures indicating fires -- in central Kalimantan, up from the previous day's 1,160. The rest of Kalimantan had 260 hotspots.

Malaysia, where the haze caused air quality to become unhealthy in some regions, called on Indonesia to ratify a regional anti-haze agreement, a report said Sunday.

Malaysia's natural resources and environment minister Azmi Khalid said it was unclear why Indonesia had dragged its feet on ratifying the deal. "Only when Indonesia ratifies the agreement can member countries set up a centre so that prevention and extinguishing of fires can be done easily," Nazmi was quoted as saying in the Star daily.

The Association of Southeast Nations in 2002 signed a trans-boundary agreement to tackle haze pollution, which blights the region annually, but critics say action has been slow to follow.

The eastern state of Sarawak on Borneo island, the worst-affected by the haze, has reported a spike in respiratory ailments including asthma. Airline traffic there was also disrupted last week.

Indonesia's annual burn-off causes a haze that typically smothers parts of Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as well as Indonesia itself.

In 1997 the fires caused a thick regional fog, which sent Singapore's pollution index to an all-time high of 226. The Indonesian government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak enforcement means the ban is largely ignored.

Bernama 8 Oct 06
Indonesia Welcomes Najib's Proposal To Pool Resources To Fight Haze

JAKARTA, Oct 8 (Bernama) -- Indonesia today welcomed Malaysia's call for Asean to jointly fight the haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia and hopes neighbouring countries understood its difficulties in overcoming the problem.

Presidential spokesman Andi Mallarangeng said this in response to a statement by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak that the haze problem would plague the region for years to come unless the countries affected pooled their resources to tackle it.

Najib said Asean needed to set up a fund as it was expensive to buy the equipment to fight the haze, such as water bombing aircraft.

Andi said the Indonesian government was doing its best to overcome the problem but its efforts were hampered by the fires burning in peat soil deep in the interior which was difficult to access.

"We are hoping the rainy season will come quickly to help us put out the fires," he was quoted as saying today by Antara news agency.

He said Indonesia had accepted the assistance of the Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department to fight the haze last year and was open to offers of cooperation. It would be up to the relevant ministries and departments to discuss the technical matters of such cooperation, he added.

The fires in Sumatra and Indonesian Kalimantan on Borneo island have cast a pall of smoke and ash over Malaysia and Singapore in recent weeks. -- BERNAMA

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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