Forest fires in Indonesia have been doused by several days of rain, reducing the haze pollution that’s smothered parts of Southeast Asia in recent months.
The number of hotspots on Sumatra island dropped to 156, down from 201 about ten days ago, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman at Indonesia’s disaster management agency, told reporters on Friday. Satellites could only detect four hotspots in Kalimantan, though visibility there may be blocked by clouds or haze, he said.
“Rainfall will be abundant in the next four days and this is our golden time because it may then be dry again for two weeks or so,” said Nugroho, adding the agency would intensify its cloud-seeding efforts.
The fires, lit to clear land for plantations, have in the past four months burnt more than two million hectares, an area roughly the size of New Jersey, according to Indonesia’s space agency. The thick smoke has closed airports and schools, led to respiratory illnesses and created diplomatic tensions between Indonesia and neighbor Singapore. It’s also made Indonesia the world’s worst polluter in recent weeks.
A three-hour pollution index in Singapore was at 63 as of 3 p.m., a level considered ‘moderate’ and down from very unhealthy levels last month. In Kalimantan’s Palangkaraya, a gauge of fine particulates was at 161 on Friday, down from a hazardous 1,270 on Tuesday and nearly 2,000 in mid-October.
In Pekanbaru and Jambi in Sumatra, facing Singapore across the Malacca Strait, the index was in a healthy range and visibility has improved to more than 3,000 meters, from less than 500 meters previously.
“Flights have resumed in Jambi after being idle for two months as visibility improves,” Nugroho said.
There have been nearly 100,000 fires detected in Indonesia this year, producing daily greenhouse gas emissions exceeding the U.S. since September, according to the World Resources Institute. More than half a million people in Indonesia have suffered respiratory infections since July.