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Worsening haze chokes Riau residents

Publication Date : 10-03-2014

 

Motorists in Pekanbaru, Riau, were forced to travel at a snail’s pace and use their headlights during the day to navigate their way through various roads on Sunday as visibility dropped to between 50 to 70 metres due to the thick haze.

“The smog is particularly bad today. I’ve heard that the government has deployed a team to carry out cloud seeding, but the fact is the situation is getting worse,” a motorcyclist rider, Hendri, said as quoted by Antara news agency.

Some store owners along Jl. Tuanku Tambusai also preferred to close their stores.

Suliswanto, a Pekanbaru resident, also complained about the deteriorating conditions. “The smoke from the haze has even entered our homes,” Suliswanto said.

Another resident, Andayani, claimed that this year’s haze was the worst since 1997, when it first became an annual problem in Riau.

“In 1997, the haze blanketed the city for about a week, while this here it has continued for over a month,” said Andayani.

As of Sunday, the concentration of dust particles in the air (PM10) was over 200 micrograms per cubic metre, significantly greater than the normal level of 50, Antara reported.

There were similar scenes in other regions in Riau such as Dumai, Bengkalis and Siak. In Bengkalis and Siak, where the air quality index reached 500 on the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) on Sunday, while the normal PSI level is between zero and 50; above 300 is considered hazardous.

Haze Emergency Response Task Force commander and chief of the Wirabima Military Command Brig. Gen. Prihadi Agus Irianto said that as many as 13,009 hectares of land in Riau had been consumed by fires in the past six weeks.

The disaster has left roughly 40,000 residents suffering from acute respiratory problems.

The haze, mainly caused by forest and land fires, have been an annual problem for Riau and neighbouring provinces and countries as it disrupts flights, land and sea transportation.

Last year, the haze issue sparked a diplomatic row between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Meanwhile, as of Sunday morning, the total number of hotspots in Sumatra was 368; 327 of them were detected in Riau, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported.

Bengkalis recorded the highest number with 112 spots, followed by Siak (67), Meranti Islands (56), Indragiri Hilir (27), Pelalawan (25), Dumai (19), Rokan Hilir (15) and Indragiri Hulu (6).

The haze has spread beyond Riau, reaching neighbouring province Jambi and halted sea transportation along Jambi’s eastern coast.

Head of the East Tanjung Jabung branch of state-owned seaport operator PT ASDP Indonesia Ferry, Sargawi, said the haze had reduced visibility at sea. “The situation is at its worst in the morning,” said Sargawi.

His agency, he continued, has received a letter from the BMKG’s calling on ship crews, sea transportation owners and ferry service providers to be extra vigilant.

“We have asked officials at the Transportation Agency to provide constant updates to residents on the situation,” Sargawi added.

“In January and February, we imposed a total ban on all sea activities because of the haze. We have lifted the ban, but we may reimpose it should the situation continue to deteriorate,” he added.

 

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