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Indonesia Prepares Cloud Seeding as Haze Returns to Malaysia

Indonesia has prepared planes to resume cloud seeding as neighboring Singapore and Malaysia raised concern that a resurgence in Sumatran forest fires has begun engulfing parts of Southeast Asia with haze again.

Satellite images showed 173 fire hotspots in the Sumatran province of Riau yesterday, according to a statement by Indonesia’s disaster management agency on the website of the State Secretary’s office. With August to October the peak period for forest fires, six planes have been readied for cloud-seeding and soldiers placed on standby to be deployed as fire-fighters as water bombing continues, it said.

“Haze is shrouding Riau causing visibility to drop,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the disaster agency’s spokesman, said in the statement. “This condition is disrupting flights in and out of Pekanbaru,” he said, referring to the provincial capital.

The returning haze will test Indonesia’s resolve to combat illegal forest blazes after the nation rejected a request last week to make available to the public maps of plantation concessions in fire-prone areas. Singapore and Malaysia, where air pollution reached hazardous levels in June, have been plagued for decades by periodic smog caused by clouds of ash drifting from Sumatra, with regular spats over responsibility.

Malaysia wrote to Indonesia registering concern over the returning haze, its environment ministry said today in an e-mailed statement, as air pollution climbed to unhealthy levels in three parts of the country. Singapore has similarly sought an “urgent” update on efforts to tackle the fires, its environment agency said yesterday.

Digitized Maps

About 99 percent of estate and forest fires are caused by people burning land, Nugroho said in the statement.

Malaysia hosted a ministerial meeting on trans-boundary haze on July 17. Indonesia agreed to share its digitized maps of land use and concessions between governments as part of a joint monitoring initiative, though only on condition that they’re not made public. Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s environment and water resources minister, called for the data to be made public so that companies owning land can be punished.

Indonesia’s parliament may ratify a regional haze treaty by the end of this year or early next year, Balthasar Kambuaya, Indonesia’s environment minister, said July 17. Under this agreement, it would share information and get more assistance from neighboring Southeast Asian governments, according to Nigel Sizer, director of the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Initiative.

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