Indonesia to induce rain over forest fires

JAKARTA - Indonesia will deploy two C-130 Hercules and six Casa 212 planes to carry out cloud seeding and induce rain over parched areas and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said on Thursday.

The agency will also use eight helicopters and two amphibious BE-200 planes for water-bombing operations across the two islands in the coming months.

The decision, announced when leaders from affected provinces met Coordinating Welfare Minister Agung Laksono, came ahead of a Cabinet meeting where severe forest fires across Riau were discussed.

Riau declared emergency status on Wednesday, and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has instructed BNPB to tackle the disaster immediately.

Dr Yudhoyono ordered law enforcement efforts to be targeted and effective in sending a deterrent message to offenders, in particular companies, Mr Agung told reporters after the Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

"Ninety-five per cent of burning is caused by people, whether individuals or corporations, for their own interests, and irresponsibly," he said. "There are also nationals of other countries who own operations in our territory."

Officials have previously alleged that companies based in Malaysia and Singapore were responsible for some of the worst haze in years last June, citing how burning took place on oil palm and pulp concessions listed as theirs.

Mr Agung noted that the Pollutant Standards Index in parts of the province had crossed 500 and was hazardous. And the outlook for the coming months is not rosy either.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said 70 per cent of Indonesia is expected to enter the dry season from April to June, with conditions expected to be worse than those last year.

The government has also set aside 300 billion rupiah (S$33 million) to tackle the haze by weather modification and firefighting this year, he said in a statement.

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