Rain cuts hot spots in Indonesia, paves way for cloud seeding

A mother tending to her son, who is recovering from a respiratory illness in a hospital in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, yesterday. The death toll from the haze crisis has risen to 19, including children, in provinces like South Sumatra and Centr
A mother tending to her son, who is recovering from a respiratory illness in a hospital in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, yesterday. The death toll from the haze crisis has risen to 19, including children, in provinces like South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan.PHOTO: REUTERS

The heavens opened late on Tuesday, delivering much-needed rain to douse forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra that have produced the thick smoke shrouding parts of South-east Asia in recent months.

The heavy rainfall not only helped to reduce the number of hot spots and provide much-needed relief for people in the two regions, but also opened a window to start cloud-seeding operations, the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said.

"Indonesia will boost its cloud- seeding efforts in the coming days after this turn of weather led to ample rain over land and forests where fires were burning," BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told The Straits Times yesterday. "The rains on Tuesday have significantly reduced hot spots today."

In Singapore, widespread rain provided a cool respite from the heat and haze. The three-hour PSI reading at 9am yesterday was 26. The 24-hour PSI at 5pm was a moderate 83 to 96.

Pre-dawn showers are expected today, though occasional "slightly hazy" conditions can still be expected, said the National Environment Agency.

The decades-old haze issue affects millions of people in South- east Asia annually. This year, however, the problem was exacerbated by an extended dry spell caused by El Nino. This made putting out the fires even more challenging despite extensive resources being allocated for firefighting operations.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan yesterday said the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) had failed to predict that the El Nino phenomenon this year would be more severe than in 1997.

"I must admit there was a mistake in the BMKG forecast," he said. "Our forecast was wrong."

He added that the region is undergoing a weather cycle that rotates between a dry and a less dry spell, with the latter making it more conducive for cloud seeding, which could not be carried out previously.

With more provinces expected to have rainfall in the coming week, the BNPB believes all the fires may be extinguished by the end of next month or early December.

The haze-related death toll has risen to 19, including children, in provinces like Central Kalimantan and South Sumatra. The toxic smoke regularly sent Pollutant Standards Index readings into the four-digit range. Anything above 350 PSI is deemed hazardous.

President Joko Widodo, who cut short his official US visit to attend to the crisis, will arrive in Palembang, South Sumatra, this morning.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2015, with the headline 'Rain cuts hot spots in Indonesia, paves way for cloud seeding'. Print Edition | Subscribe