Rain expected in coming days in Kalimantan and Sumatra

Thick haze shrouding Palangkaraya city, Central Kalimantan on Oct 26, 2015.
Thick haze shrouding Palangkaraya city, Central Kalimantan on Oct 26, 2015. PHOTO: AFP
A villager tries to extinguish a peatland fire on the outskirts of Palangkaraya city, Central Kalimantan on Oct 26, 2015.
A villager tries to extinguish a peatland fire on the outskirts of Palangkaraya city, Central Kalimantan on Oct 26, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Kalimantan and Sumatra, the two worst-hit regions in the haze crisis, may have some reprieve soon as rain is expected in the coming days, said the head of data and information at the national disaster management agency (BNPB).

Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, who is also the agency's spokesman, told The Straits Times on Tuesday (Oct 27) that based on data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), westerly winds at an altitude of about 5,000m may move air masses eastward, carrying more water vapour to parts of Indonesia.

The forecast indicates a chance for rainfall over Kalimantan and Sumatra from Wednesday to Friday.

"This would certainly benefit our efforts in preventing the spread of fires," he said.

Indonesia is organising a massive rescue operation to evacuate thousands of people, particularly babies and children, from their homes, starting with those living in Kalimantan.

This comes as forest fires, which produce the toxic haze, continue to burn unabated despite the extensive firefighting resources dedicated to putting them out.

A total of 27 ships, including 11 from the navy, are on high alert off the waters of the two regions, which have been badly hit by thick smoke from forest and peatland fires. Three navy warships, including a naval floating hospital, arrived in Banjarmasin on Monday.

Local health authorities announced 12 confirmed deaths from lung infections, while more than half a million have been treated for haze-related illnesses.

The severity of this year's transboundary haze crisis, now into its third month, has even prompted Indonesia President Joko Widodo to cut short his maiden visit to the United States.

On Monday, Mr Joko said First Lady Iriana and himself will leave Washington D.C. and return to Indonesia, possibly flying directly into Kalimantan or Sumatra so that he can personally attend to the crisis.

Dr Sutopo also confirmed on Tuesday that a "thin smoke" had spread to the skies over the capital Jakarta on Monday.

"Satellite analysis by the BMKG at 12.30am showed that thin smoke had covered Jakarta, Banten, West Java, and Central Java West," he said. "Thin smoke is located at an altitude of about 3,000 metres. Most of the smoke is coming from Kalimantan due to south-westernly winds".

"The concentration and particle size is very small so it does not have a significant impact on health... So it is not dangerous, society does not need to fret, motor vehicle fumes and air pollution in Jakarta is more dangerous," he added.