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Europe chokes under freezing smog
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Jan 24, 2017

Indonesian province declares alert as haze fears grow
Jakarta (AFP) Jan 24, 2017 - An Indonesian province that suffers annual outbreaks of haze-belching fires said Tuesday it was declaring an early alert to prevent blazes burning out of control after forecasters predicted a dry 2017.

Riau, on the western island of Sumatra, announced the move after a few "hotspots" -- areas of extreme heat detected by satellites which often indicate fires -- were sighted this month.

It came a day after President Joko Widodo urged local authorities to take early steps to prevent a repeat of the haze crisis of 2015.

The fires occur every year on Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo island, typically during the months-long dry season later in the year.

The fires are deliberately started to clear land quickly and cheaply for palm oil and pulpwood plantations.

The 2015 blazes were among the worst on record and sent clouds of toxic smog floating across Southeast Asia, leading large numbers to fall ill.

A US academic study estimated that the crisis may have led to over 100,000 premature deaths.

The alert status in Riau -- below the more significant "state of emergency", which typically indicates a large number of fires burning fiercely -- was set to remain in place until April and allows the province to request more resources from central government.

"We are preparing helicopters for water-bombing to help the regional government," disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told AFP. Several provinces were criticised in 2015 for failing to declare emergencies quickly enough.

The blazes typically start earlier in Riau due its high concentration of carbon-rich peatland and a widespread practice of using fire to clear land.

The Meteorology, Geophysics and Climatology Agency has predicted that this year will be drier than 2016, when an unusually long rainy season prevented major outbreaks of fires.

Widodo urged efforts to stop the blazes including setting up fire prevention task forces. He told a meeting of ministers and senior officials: "It is only January but it is already looking dry, therefore we cannot be careless."

Heavy pollution enveloping much of Europe prompted emergency measures across the continent on Tuesday.

A toxic cocktail of extreme cold, no wind and heavy burning of coal and wood for heating has left many regions shrouded in smog.

In many countries, including Britain, France and Brussels, officials have cautioned against physical exertion for children and the elderly, and for people with respiratory problems.

Officials in Paris have ordered half of all private cars off the road since Monday, based on licence plate numbers, while speed limits have been reduced in many parts of France.

Paris has also banned older, more polluting cars, and cut the price of public transport.

In London, a cloud of freezing smog forced the cancellation of around 100 out of 1,300 flights at Heathrow airport for the second day in a row, while Met Office forecasters had a "severe" warning in place for all of England.

Madrid has not issued an alert since a seven-day stretch of high pollution that ended January 1, which saw the city impose the first driving restrictions based on licence plates in Spain.

Eastern Europe has also been hit by blanket of smog, exacerbated by the heavy use of wood and coal during the cold snap.

Hungarian officials have issued pollution alerts for about 20 cities, including Budapest, where cars without catalytic converters have been forbidden from roads from Monday to Wednesday.

In Bulgaria, pollution has smothered the capital, Sofia, already considered one of the most polluted European capitals. But so far, officials have not imposed any specific restrictions.

Lawmakers in the Krakow region of Poland, considered the area with the dirtiest air in the country, approved Monday an anti-smog plan that calls for replacing the most polluting heating stoves by 2023.

Poland also plans to ban the use of low-quality coal -- an important but costly measure in a country where coal is used to heat 72 percent of homes.

Piotre Kopalka, 31, was among protesters who presented a petition calling on Warsaw to enact measures similar to those in Krakow.

"We want to live in a healthy city," he said, wearing a black robe and an anti-pollution mask, and carrying a scythe. "The situation in Warsaw is more and more worrying, we have to act."


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Previous Report
Indonesian province declares alert as haze fears grow
Jakarta (AFP) Jan 24, 2017
An Indonesian province that suffers annual outbreaks of haze-belching fires said Tuesday it was declaring an early alert to prevent blazes burning out of control after forecasters predicted a dry 2017. Riau, on the western island of Sumatra, announced the move after a few "hotspots" - areas of extreme heat detected by satellites which often indicate fires - were sighted this month. It ... read more

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