Rare clear sunrise for Kalimantan resident

Rare clear sunrise for Kalimantan resident
Indonesian President Joko Widodo inspects a newly-built canal to prevent peatland fires in Pulang Pisau, east of Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.
PHOTO: Reuters

Palang karaya resident Haulani Bakri could not believe his eyes when he saw the sun shining over his hometown yesterday morning. It was the first time in almost three months that the 61-year-old caught a sunrise in the capital city of Central Kalimantan.

The haze from forest and peatland fires had shrouded almost all of the island for months, often sending air pollution levels off the charts.

The people in the province have now enjoyed two consecutive days of clear skies after it rained for most of the week.

"The conditions improved after it started to rain," Mr Haulani, who makes and sells aluminium cupboards for a living, told The Sunday Times yesterday. "In the last few months, we sometimes even had to turn on the lights in the afternoon."

The city's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading, the gauge of air quality, was as low as 75 yesterday but peaked at 220 in the evening.

Still, it was a vast improvement on the four-digit PSI levels most of Central Kalimantan had experienced just days ago.

Kalimantan and Sumatra islands are the worst-hit this year. The two regions saw 19 deaths from haze related illnesses and more than half a million people treated for acute lung infections. Almost 2.1 million ha of land, including forests and peatland, in Indonesia have been ravaged by the fires.

However, the heavy downpour over the two regions, starting from last Tuesday, has managed to provide much-needed relief to residents and emergency workers who have been working day and night either fighting fires or attending to people affected by the haze.

Tjilik Riwut Airportwasfully operational yesterday. Flights to and from the airport in Palangkaraya had been grounded or re-directed due to low visibility since the crisis started in August.

The capital city of Central Kalimantan is the last stop on President Joko Widodo's trip to haze-hit provinces to take stock of the situation.

He has visited different areas in the cities of Palembang and Jambi in Sumatra since his return from his visit to the United States last Thursday with First Lady Iriana.

Yesterday, he arrived in Pahandut, a residential estate in Palangkaraya, to find out how residents have been coping with the crisis.

He also visited a state-run primary school. Most people put on broad smiles for the President as he walked though the town.

He later went to Pulang Pisau, just outside the city, to inspect the blocking-canals he had ordered to be built around plantations to retain moisture and prevent fires from spreading.

"A month ago, when we came here, there was no water,so the peatland caught fire easily, but now the water from these canals will always be here," he said. He added that the blocking-canals run all the way to the nearby Kahayan River, which supplies the water. "We will build these (blocking-canals) in all the regencies in every fire-prone province in Indonesia. We will keep on building them even when it rains."

Although conditions have improved significantly, Indonesia is ramping up efforts to induce rain to fully douse the hot spots.

Many in Palang karaya are trying to pick up the pieces and move on.

Those who run businesses like Mr Haulani, who said sales fell by half during the haze crisis, are hoping that customers will return.

Mr Windu Sukmono, 30, who runs a laundry business, was more fortunate. He said there was steady demand for his service. But he, too, is praying that the clear skies and fresh air are here to stay. "Maybe this time it is for good."

Meanwhile, Singapore continued to enjoy clear skies yesterday, with the 24-hour PSI reading at 9pm at 47 to 56 (good to moderate), and the three-hour PSI reading at 63.

This article was first published on November 1, 2015.
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