Indonesia planning cloud seeding to tackle haze that is also affecting Singapore

Residents go about their daily chores in Palembang despite the thick haze in at about 5:30 pm on Sept 12, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA
Residents go about their daily chores in Palembang despite the thick haze in at about 5:30 pm on Sept 12, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA
A chopper over Palembang returns from a water bombing trip on Sept 12, 2014. The sun turned reddish because of the haze particles. -- ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA
A chopper over Palembang returns from a water bombing trip on Sept 12, 2014. The sun turned reddish because of the haze particles. -- ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA

The Indonesian authorities are making plans for cloud seeding operations to extinguish forest and plantation fires in South Sumatra and Riau that have shrouded Singapore in foul-smelling haze yet again.

The fires, which had been raging for days, prompted pollution levels in Singapore to climb to the unhealthy range on Sunday and early Monday morning. The pollution readings have since eased back to moderate levels.

"We are communicating with BNPB (the National Disaster Mitigation Agency) now and will start arrangement to do cloud seeding. BNPB will make the call," Mr Erwin Mulyono, a scientist with Indonesia's Applied Technology Agency (BPPT), which helps to strategise cloud seeding operations, told The Straits Times by telephone.

He added: "We have personnel ready in Pekanbaru and in Palembang right now. The aircraft (for the cloud seeding operation) are in the Halim Air Force base (in Jakarta) today and should soon be deployed there."

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Hotspots in past 24 hours

Source: NASA EODIS | Straits Times Graphic: Lin Zhaowei

Haze over southern and central Sumatra in the past few days has been mostly due to forest and plantation fires in South Sumatra. The wind has been blowing a northeasterly direction over Riau, as is typical for this time of the year, sending the haze in the direction of Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia.

Hourly air quality readings in Malaysia on Monday morning have been either healthy or moderate so far.

Dr Ajisman Syafaat, a lung specialist at the Arifin Achmad state hospital in Pekanbaru, told The Straits Times that the city has been shrouded by a light haze since last Saturday.

"Hopefully the government will do something soon," he said.

In mid-March, Dr Ajisman made an appeal to the Pekanbaru municipal adimistration to evacuate pregnant women, babies and toddlers from the capital of Riau province until conditions return to normal, saying the haze situation was "too dangerous" to health.

The Sultan Thaha Syaifuddin airport in Jambi in the southern part of Sumatra was closed for four hours on Sunday as the visibility level dropped to below 1km, the minimum required for airlines to land safely, according to local online news portal Jambiekspres.co.id.

The weekly weather forecast for Jambi indicates a continued dry spell for the province. Local administration officials appealed to farmers and plantation companies not to do slash-and-burn to clear lands.

Haze from forest and plantation fires also blanketed Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, on Sunday evening, prompting residents who were outdoors to wear masks, according to Kompas.com, the online news portal owned by Indonesia's largest newspaper. Several flights in Sumatra and Kalimantan have also been disrupted due to haze in recent days.

BNPB has been carrying out water bombing operations using helicopters in affected areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan to contain the spread of fire.

wahyudis@sph.com.sg