Rain in Indonesia offers some respite from haze

A Malaysian CL-415 Bombardier amphibious aircraft preparing for take-off at Talang Betutu air force base in Palembang, South Sumatra, yesterday. Water-bombing sorties by aircraft from Singapore and Malaysia supporting Indonesia's firefighting efforts
A Malaysian CL-415 Bombardier amphibious aircraft preparing for take-off at Talang Betutu air force base in Palembang, South Sumatra, yesterday. Water-bombing sorties by aircraft from Singapore and Malaysia supporting Indonesia's firefighting efforts started on Sunday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Sporadic rain over parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan in the last two days brought some much needed relief from the haze for Indonesia.

While the heavens stopped short of opening to help douse all the forest fires raging in the two territories, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in many Indonesian cities was on a downtrend yesterday.

The number of hot spots in Sumatra also fell, with satellites detecting just 156 fires - down from a recent peak of more than 725.

This was attributed to a combination of showers over the two regions as well as the multilateral firefighting operations in South Sumatra, one of the worst-hit areas.

The provincial capital Palembang recorded a PSI of 323 at 6pm - just under the hazardous zone of 350 and much lower than the 819 PSI it recorded during pre-dawn hours on the previous day. Air pollution in Pekanbaru - located about 280km from Singapore - was 201 PSI, while in Pontianak in West Kalimantan, it was 75 PSI. Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan peaked at 1,177 PSI earlier but fell to 536 PSI at 6pm.

The thick haze, however, continued to blanket the skies yesterday afternoon, lowering visibility levels in Pekanbaru to 1km, in Palembang to 800m, and in Palangkaraya to 400m.

Water-bombing sorties by aircraft from Singapore and Malaysia supporting Indonesia's firefighting effortsstarted on Sunday.

"The additional muscle from Singapore and Malaysia has brought about results, while rains in several parts of South Sumatra have also helped," said Mr Tri Budiarto, a deputy chairman of Indonesia's disaster management agency (BNPB). He added that conditions may be favourable for cloud-seeding over Sumatra and Kalimantan today and tomorrow, giving hope that the forest fires may be largely put out.

However, BNPB head Willem Rampangilei cautioned that challenges still remain. "We detected smoke coming out from agricultural land, meaning the fires are spreading underneath. This is a challenge to our operations, in addition to the strong wind."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'Rain in Indonesia offers some respite from haze'. Print Edition | Subscribe