Forest-Fire Haze Harming Air Quality in Indonesia, Singapore

  • Readings in Parts of Sumatra Deemed `Very Unhealthy''
  • Smog is Caused by Farmers Burning Trees to Clear Land

Smog caused by slash-and-burn agriculture in Indonesia is continuing to foul air quality as far away as Singapore, with readings in some parts of Sumatra island deemed “very unhealthy.”

A gauge of tiny air-pollution particles was at 344.90 as of 10 a.m. in Palembang, in the southern part of Sumatra, just beneath the dividing line between “very unhealthy” and “hazardous.” That was down from a reading of 515.63 at 4 a.m, well into hazardous territory, according to Indonesia’s meteorology agency.

The haze, caused by farmers who burn forests to clear their land for agriculture, is an annual occurrence that sends smog wafting northward to Singapore and Malaysia. Those governments have complained to Indonesia, and Singaporean legislators last year passed a law allowing regulators to prosecute companies involved in illegal forest burning.

Air pollution was deemed “moderate” as of 10 a.m. in both Pekanbaru in Riau province and Medan in northern Sumatra. The agency illustrates its readings with emoticons showing a crying face for unhealthy levels, a deeply frowning face for very unhealthy levels or a deeply frowning, squinting face for a hazardous reading.

A total of 15 flights leaving Banjarmasin were delayed between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m., as well as 10 departing the South Kalimantan city, the airport operator said.

The Indonesian military said in an e-mailed statement that it’s sending as many as 1,059 army, marine and air force personnel to South Sumatra on Thursday to fight the forest fires. Singapore also offered to send help and has placed a C-130 plane on standby for cloud seeding, as well as other aircraft.

In Singapore, the Pollutant Standards Index showed a three-hour reading of 187, edging closer to the "very unhealthy" range exceeding 200. It’s still far below the record of 401 set in June 2013. Any PSI reading above 100 is classified as unhealthy.

The fires are exacerbated by the local dry season. Indonesian authorities warned last week that this year’s haze will be worse than in previous years, the Bernama news agency reported, and could last through end-November.

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