Haze-hit Riau gets reprieve, thanks to heavy rain and fire-fighting operations

A water bomber dropping its payload as a police officer tries to extinguish a peat fire in Kampar, Riau province, on Aug 29, 2016.
A water bomber dropping its payload as a police officer tries to extinguish a peat fire in Kampar, Riau province, on Aug 29, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS/ANTARA FOTO

JAKARTA - Heavy rainfall on Tuesday (Aug 30) provided much needed relief for people affected by the thick smoke from forest fires burning across Sumatra.

The haze shrouded several areas in Sumatra, particularly Riau province, where air pollution hit crisis levels in recent days. This has led schools in the province to suspend classes since Monday.

Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said on Tuesday (Aug 30) a combination of rain and fire-fighting efforts, including cloud-seeding operations, led to the vast improvement in air quality.

Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, who heads the BNPB's data and information division, said the air pollution standard index over most regions in Sumatra generally measured under 50 PSI, or in the "good" range.

In Riau's Rokan Hilir regency, one of the worst-hit areas and the focus of fire-fighting efforts, the air quality was "moderate".

"Fire-fighting operations in the six provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan continue," said Dr Sutopo, who added that a total of five BNPB helicopters as well as three fixed-wing aircraft have been deployed to Riau.

The latest development comes after air pollution levels in places such as Bengkalis regency in Riau, hit 460 PSI or "dangerous" levels on Monday (Aug 29).

It also follows a warning by Indonesia's meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG) earlier on Tuesday that the haze in Riau could head towards Singapore and Malaysia in the next few days due to a change in wind direction.

The BMKG, citing the latest satellite imagery, also said the western region of Sumatra is in "a precarious position", particularly over the next five days, and it will be keeping a close watch on high-risk areas in Riau, as well as Aceh, Bengkulu and Jambi, among others.

Climate change experts do not expect a repeat of last year's record haze crisis due to more favourable weather conditions as well as preventive measures put in place by the Indonesian government in recent months.