Two Indonesian aircraft are on standby to carry out cloud seeding operations to douse transboundary haze-causing fires in Riau, with rain forecast to fall in the province close to Singapore and Malaysia over the next few days.
The country's emergency response team managed to induce heavy rain in some areas across the province last Friday, allowing the air quality in the provincial capital of Pekanbaru to improve temporarily, said local media.
Acting spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) Agus Wibowo said one more aircraft will arrive in Pekanbaru today to help cloud seeding operations.
Yesterday morning, air quality in Pekanbaru fell into the unhealthy category between 182 and 201, according to PM10 concentration readings, which measure the concentration of tiny particles less than 10 micrometres in diameter.
The smoke came from what looked to be 27 hot spots across Riau, reducing visibility to 1km to 2.2km, BNPB said in a statement.
The emergency response team sought to carry out a cloud seeding operation in Indragiri Hilir and Pelalawan regencies, but the plan was cancelled as there were no potential clouds to seed, Mr Jim Gafur, the head of emergency response at the Riau disaster management agency, told The Straits Times.
In response to the choking smoke, the Riau government temporarily suspended activities at schools and distributed masks to local residents. Emergency healthcare centres have also been set up.
Lion Air Group said it delayed, cancelled or diverted 154 domestic flights yesterday because of low visibility. Garuda Indonesia also cancelled 12 domestic flights
Meanwhile, Malaysia hoped to finally begin cloud seeding operations of its own today, after plans were thwarted yesterday by unsuitable conditions.
In Johor, the worsening haze situation forced more than 300 schools and kindergartens to close yesterday in Muar, Tangkak and Pontian, affecting about 90,000 students, after the Air Pollutant Index (API) reached very unhealthy levels.
Melaka is also likely to see school closures, with the state's Communications, Multimedia, NGO, Youth and Sports Development Committee chairman Kerk Chee Yee saying the Melaka Sports Council decided to delay all outdoor sporting events, after the API hit 222 yesterday.
Malaysia has lamented the lack of cooperation in solving the haze blanketing the region.
"It requires the cooperation of other countries, so until we get that cooperation, it is not possible for us to have any tangible plans," Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday.
While noting Indonesia was one of the neighbours that needed to be on the same page, he said he had yet to write to President Joko Widodo.
"We will see the evidence because they (Indonesia) claim that this is coming from Malaysia, so we have to verify whether it is coming from Malaysia or not," Tun Dr Mahathir said.
- Additional reporting by Shannon Teoh in Kuala Lumpur