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Indonesian govt urged to begin water bombing as burning season starts

Publication Date : 12-02-2014


Local disaster agency officials from eight provinces in Indonesia affected by the haze have called on the Indonesian government to begin water bombing operations, amid signs that farmers have started the annual burning season earlier than usual.

Syamsul Maarif, head of the disaster mitigation agency (BNPB), said they made this request on Tuesday during a coordination meeting with representatives from the environment, domestic affairs and forestry ministries, as well as the national police and army.

Farmers and plantation companies in Sumatra and Kalimantan, faced with unusually dry weather over the past few weeks, have been clearing their land by burning, the cheapest way to do so.

“Most of the fires were caused by deliberate burning by residents, not fire accidents,” said Syamsul, citing reports from the disaster agency's provincial heads.
"A lot of the fires were near the main roads, access roads, indicating the starts of the fires were deliberate."

The air pollutant index in Dumai, Northern part of Riau, soared to 449, deemed very hazardous on Tuesday morning. Dumai, some 270km northwest of Singapore, was at the epicentre of the worst haze in years last June, which saw air pollutant levels hit record highs in nearby Singapore and Malaysia.

Flights in Pekanbaru, Riau and Palembang, South Sumatra were delayed this week due to low visibility levels in the thick haze.

Most schools in the Siak district, Southeast of Dumai, were closed today and tomorrow at least.

Winds above central Sumatra are blowing away from Singapore and Peninsula Malaysia at the moment, said BNPB's head of data department, Agus Wibowo, with no reports of the two neighbouring countries being affected by the haze so far.

On its part, the BNPB will help with the water bombing by deploying an air force hercules aircraft and a government cassa plane. It will also hire helicopters, said  Syamsul.

The agency is also gearing up for an especially hot and dry season starting from April, and expects to do more when more resources, such as helicopters and planes, arrive, he added.

"Learning from last year's experience, we don't want to be late this time round," he told The Straits Times.


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