Thick haze causes flight and health issues in Indonesia

Thick haze causes flight and health issues in Indonesia
Elementary school students wear face masks to protect themselves from the smog of forest fires in Pekanbaru, Riau, Thursday. With visibility reduced to about 800 meters and air pollution reaching an “unhealthy” level, affected schools are yet to close.
PHOTO: Jakarta Post/ANN

Thick haze originating from forest and land fires in Riau has started to disturb flights in Pekanbaru, and has also threatened the health of the residents in the provincial capital.

The authority of Pekanbaru Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport said that the haze had caused the visibility in the region to be less than 1,000 meters.

“This morning the visibility was only 800 meters. We made a regulation that the minimum visibility for an aircraft to land at the airport is 1,000 meters,” said Hasturman Yunus, the head of the airport’s service and operation division, in Pekanbaru on Thursday.

Due to the worsening condition, Citilink’s flight QG 963 serving the Jakarta-Pekanbaru route was forced to circle the airport for about 30 minutes before landing. The flight was initially scheduled to land at 7 a.m. local time.

“It was impossible for it to land because the runway was not visible from the air,” Hasturman said.

After 30 minutes of circling, he added, the haze was thinning and the Airbus 330-200 was finally able to land safely at the airport.

Hasturman said that throughout July, haze had disrupted five flights at the airport. Of the five, two were finally redirected to Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam, Riau Islands, while the other two were delayed and one was forced to circle before landing.

“There is nothing we can do when haze disrupts flights. For safety reasons, it’s better to redirect flights or make them circle while waiting for the haze to become thinner before landing,” he said.

Data at the Pekanbaru branch of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) showed that the Terra and Aqua satellites on Thursday at 5 a.m. local time detected 326 hot spots across Sumatra, 186 of which were in Riau.

In Riau, the hot spots were spread across Pelalawan (60 spots), Indragiri Hulu (54), Indragiri Hilir (45), Siak (11), Dumai (6), Bengkalis (5), Kampar (3) and Kuansing (2).

Outside Riau, the hot spots were detected in South Sumatra (42), Jambi (51), Lampung (8), Bengkulu (6), North Sumatra (3) and West Sumatra (2).

BMKG Pekanbaru head Sugarin said the haze that blanketed the city originated from neighboring regencies.

The haze decreased the air quality. The air is continuously categorized as unhealthy [because of the haze],” he said.

Residents as well as students who entered school after the Ramadhan holidays had to wear masks while doing outdoor activities.

Meanwhile in Jambi, a 63-year-old man named Bakri of Nipah Panjang district, East Tanjungjabung regency, has been detained by the local police for allegedly starting a fire.

The case started when he was told by his employer to clear a two-hectare plot of land on Wednesday. To save time, Bakri burned the land.

Unfortunately, the flames also burned ten oil palms belonging to Rosta Sastra, whose land was next to the land burned by Bakri. Rosta reported the case to the police.

“I didn’t know that it would be like this. I also didn’t know that we were banned from burning land. Had I known, I would not have burned the land,” Bakri said Thursday.

Separately, East Tanjungjabung Police’s detective and crime unit head Adj. Comr. Amos Lubis said that eight people were examined in the case. Yet only Bakri had to undergo further legal procedures.

“From our investigation, only this one person really cleared the land by burning it,” he said.

Bakri is facing Article 187 of the Criminal Code on crime considered to endanger public safety and Law No 18/2004 on plantations. “They carry a penalty of 12 years imprisonment,” he said.

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