The Jakarta Post
With the government's recovery efforts progressing much slower than expected, land and forest fires have continued to raze many parts of the country, creating problems not only for locals but also those living in neighboring regions.
The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency's (BMKG) Pekanbaru station reported on Saturday that despite zero hot spots detected in Riau, the province was severely blanketed by haze produced by land and forest fires in neighboring provinces.
Of the 71 hot spots recorded on Saturday, 55 were located in South Sumatra, 12 in Lampung, three in Bangka Belitung and one in North Sumatra, according to the station.
Although no hot spots were found in Riau, the country's largest oil-producing region remained vulnerable to thick haze as wind brought smoke produced by the fires to the north and southeast.
Station head Sugarin said Riau's Indragiri Hulu and Pelalawan regencies were the worst hit by smoke on Saturday as visibility in the regions stood at 50 meters and 100 m, respectively.
'[Smoke] causes limited visibility in many regions. In Pekanbaru municipality, visibility was recorded at only 1,000 meters while in Dumai 2,000 meters,' Sugarin said, as quoted by Antara news agency.
Over the past several weeks, pollution originating from fires in peatland and plantations has hit several regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan, particularly West Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.
The ongoing haze crisis has also been exacerbated by this year's prolonged dry season triggered by the El NiÃ±o weather phenomenon.
Soon after his inauguration on Sept. 9, the new chief of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), Willem Rampangilei, said the agency aimed to clear up the haze blanketing Sumatra in two weeks.
Among indicators of success, he said, were airports in the regions operating normally without disruption from haze, sending students back to school and reducing symptoms of acute respiratory infections (ISPA).
Approaching the end of the month, however, the government-led recovery efforts have been showing little progress, as the numbers of flight delays and detected hot spots continue to fluctuate.
In Pekanbaru, more than a dozen flights to and from Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport (SSK II) experienced delays on Saturday on account of poor visibility. Meanwhile, in North Sumatra, two flights scheduled to depart for Pekanbaru and Penang, Malaysia, from Kualanamu International Airport were also delayed due to a similar reason.
In East Kalimantan, fires that started on Wednesday to Friday have also burned down some 200 hectares in the Samboja Lestari orangutan sanctuary, located some 50 kilometers north of Balikpapan.
Contacted on Saturday, Samboja Police general crimes unit head Adj. First. Insp. Sriyanto said the police had questioned six people thus far to find the source of the fires.
The high intensity of haze has also forced the Palangkaraya municipal administration in Central Kalimantan to give students one week off from school, starting from Friday.
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