Smoke haze continues to trouble Indonesia amid warnings of worse to come
JAKARTA (AFP) Aug 23, 2004
Smoke haze from forest and ground fires continued to blanket parts of Indonesia Monday as officials warned that the pollution could worsen over coming weeks.

Low visibility and complaints that toxic air was stinging eyes and smarting lungs were reported across Indonesian territory on Borneo island, although haze intensity had lightened since the weekend when flights were cancelled.

But, according to one senior Indonesian official, the situation could worsen in September due to a lack of rain during the annual dry season.

Sudariyono, a deputy environment minister, told the Jakarta Post that the haze caused by illegal land clearing throughout Indonesia was being exacerbated by local authorities who failed to stamp out the practice.

"The conditions could worsen because people in those areas keep on burning the forests for farming. In addition there is no indication that the rainfall will start soon," he said.

"Our office cannot do anything but warn local administrations that it is their responsibility to seriously tackle the problem in their own areas," he added.

Meteorological officials across Indonesian Borneo reported poor visibility early Monday as smoke haze, held in place by humid conditions, failed to disperse under overnight rains.

"Up until eight this morning, visibility remained at 800 meters although it is now improving as the sun heats up," said Maroni of the meteorology office in West Kalimantan provincial capital Pontianak -- a regular haze blackspot.

Other main cities on the island also reported haze problems. In the South Kalimantan provincial capital Banjarmasin, the problem was fluctuating over 24-hour periods, according to local meteorologist Bambang.

"It has been like this for about one week, but while in the beginning the smoke haze began to come down over the city around five in the morning, in the past two days it is already on us around nine in the evening," he said.

Similar conditions were reported in Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan province.

Sumatra and Borneo islands -- which border Singapore and Malaysia -- are the areas usually hardest hit by the choking haze, an annual dry-season hazard in parts of Southeast Asia.

Indonesian Environment Minister Nabiel Makarim said last week the haze was partially caused by illegal logging and urged Malaysia to help Jakarta stem the smuggling of stolen timber into the country.

In 1997 and to a lesser extent in 1998, haze from forest fires in Indonesia enveloped parts of Southeast Asia for months, causing serious health problems and traffic hazards.