MEDAN/BATAM - The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) announced on Wednesday that haze from forest and land fires in Sumatra has begun to move toward Singapore and Malaysia.
Head of the agency's Kuala Namu data section, Mega Sirait, said that the potential for the haze to reach Singapore and Malaysia had increased as the number of hotspots was also rising, while the wind was heading in an east-northeast direction.
"This has to be watched and the hotspots have to be addressed too. Otherwise, the haze will spread to Singapore and Malaysia," Sirait said.
Meanwhile, Malaysia has called for immediate action by Indonesia to extinguish and prevent further land and forest fires in central Sumatra, which are responsible for the cross-border haze.
Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said the call was expressed to Indonesia in a letter written by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry's director general, Datuk Halimah Hassan to her counterpart at the Environment Ministry in Indonesia.
"The letter was to express Malaysia's concern about the increase in the number of hotspots causing the haze in the peninsula since June 22," he said in a statement on Tuesday, as quoted by thestar.com.
According to Terra and Aqua satellite observations, there were 386 hotspots across Sumatra as of Wednesday, with some 95 per cent located in Riau's regions of Rokan Hilir (221 hotspots), Dumai (59), Bengkalis (57), Pelalawan (19), Inhil (3), Kuansing (3), Meranti (2), Siak (1) and Inhu (1).
Others were spotted in the North Sumatran regencies of Mandailing Natal, Labuhanbatu and Karo.
Separately, Batam BMKG head Philip Mustamu revealed the wind's movement was from the southeast to south with a velocity of between 5 and 25 kilometers per hour.
"Such conditions are known to carry haze originating from Riau toward Riau Islands, including neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia, which will certainly take place in the near future," Philip told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
According to Philip, Riau Islands province, especially Batam, is a non-seasonal region, so cannot be categorized in the same way as Riau, which is currently entering the dry season.
He said the extreme movement of cumulonimbus clouds had led to rain over the past few days, which looked set to last until next week.
"Riau is a seasonal region, while Riau Islands is not. Currently, local rain is taking place continuously in Riau Islands, followed by strong winds and thunder. The conditions are different to Riau, which is currently entering the dry season," said Philip.
Batam's Hang Nadim International Airport general affairs head, Suwarso, said flight activities at the airport had remained normal over the past week and no planes had been diverted to Batam from Pekanbaru due to the haze.
"Hang Nadim airport is apparently an alternative airport when Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport in Pekanbaru is affected by weather, but currently the conditions remain normal, including flights," said Suwarso.
According to him, haze is a threat if visibility drops to below-normal levels, or below 2,000 meters.
"But if visibility is above 2,000 meters, flight activities can still continue as Hang Nadim airport is equipped with landing system instruments that are able to guide planes to land automatically."
National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said that this year's El Niño was predicted to be moderate. Indicators of this include the fact that the temperature of the sea's surface in the Pacific Ocean reflected the same phenomenon as that of the 1997 El Niño.
The impact of this phenomenon for Indonesia, he said, would be a long drought.
In anticipation of this, the BNPB, in cooperation with related ministries and institutions and the Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), had coordinated with nine provinces in the region including North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, East Kalimantan and North Kalimantan.
Especially for Riau, according to Sutopo, the governor as well as regents and mayors had to take concrete steps as forest and land fires in the province had been continually recurring and the causes had also been identified.
Sutopo also said that the BNPB had prepared a ready-to-spend fund of Rp 355 billion (S$37.01 million) in anticipation of forest and land fires in Sumatra.
He added that three helicopters - Kamov, Sikorsky and Bolco models - had been operated in Riau to extinguish fires and haze. They excluded the Hercules and Casa aircraft that were engaged in modifying weather patterns.
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