The choking haze that enveloped Singapore and Malaysia last year is unlikely to be repeated next year, an Indonesian official said yesterday, as the weather in Sumatra and Kalimantan is forecast to return to the pattern of past years, thus reducing the threat of forest and land fires.
The number of hot spots last year - triggered by fires covering forests and the dry land on the two Indonesian islands - were recorded at a staggering 78,164, spawning the haze that sent air pollution indices in Singapore and Malaysia to very unhealthy levels.
This year, 14,490 hot spots were recorded, with no major haze.
Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of Indonesia's disaster management agency BNPB, said at a year-end briefing in Jakarta: "There won't likely be any strengthening of either El Nino or La Nina.
"That means there won't be a dry season that is too dry. Likewise with the wet season."
El Nino is a weather phenomenon which leads to prolonged hot and dry weather in the region like it did last year, while La Nina gives an opposite effect.
Indonesia will still have forest and land fires next year, he said, but the hot spot counts and their coverage would be small compared to last year.
"Why can't we put the hot spot count to zero? It is difficult because this is about a custom and people earning a living. Villagers clear their farm by burning," he said.
Dr Sutopo said the decline in hot spots was not only due to better weather but also harsher law enforcement on errant corporations and individuals, and better fire prevention measures by the government and private sector.
Read also: NEA writes to Indonesia over haze concerns
This article was first published on Dec 30, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.