Friday, June 21, 2013

Indonesian fires worsen, Singapore smog sets record

Kanupriya Kapoor in Reuters: Military planes water-bombed Indonesian forest fires that worsened on Friday and blanketed neighboring Singapore in record levels of hazardous smog for a third straight day in one of Southeast Asia's worst air-pollution crises.

As Singaporeans donned face masks and pulled children from playgrounds and Malaysia closed schools in the south, the deliberately-lit fires grew bigger in some areas. Whipped up by winds, the blazes added to fears over health problems and diplomatic tension in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, three of Southeast Asia's biggest economies.

...Indonesia's Environment Minister, Balthasar Kambuaya, said the government had identified five companies behind the fires, but refused to name them, according to The Jakarta Post newspaper.

Singapore's government has warned the haze could last weeks. Illegal burning of forests and other land on Indonesia's Sumatra island typically take place in the June to September dry season to clear space for palm oil plantations. But this year's fires are unusually widespread and the hazy smog is the worst in Singapore's history.

"Since the fires are happening mostly on plantation lands, we believe there are plantation companies involved. The president has already put together a team to investigate who owns the plantations," said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency....

Fires on Sumatra in 2006, via NASA

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