Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Flights in Sumatra and Kalimantan disrupted by haze

Haze emanating from forest fires and hotspots continues to shroud various parts of Kalimantan and Sumatra, hindering the day-to-day activities of the local residents and flight schedules.

On Tuesday, thick smog blanketed Syamsudin Noor Airport of Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, leading to delays of five flights to Balikpapan, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, and Jakarta.

"Five flights were delayed for about 30 minutes to an hour from their scheduled departure time," Airport Service Section Head of PT Angkasa Pura I airport operator Heru Widiatmo stated in Banjarbaru, South Kalimantan, on Tuesday.

The haze also covered regions in Jambi and South Sumatra and disrupted flights from Palembang on Monday.

According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), the smoke arising from hotspots still engulfed various regions in Indonesia, such as South Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Based on satellite data on Monday, South Sumatra still had 37 hotspots, Central Kalimantan (125), South Kalimantan (29), and East Kalimantan (20).

"It seems that the annual land and forest fires have not yet served as a lesson for the people to fully prevent the disaster," Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the head of the Information Center and Public Relations of BNPB, affirmed on Monday.

He noted that the satellite detected the spread of haze in the Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) region of Palembang (South Sumatra) and Jambi. The winds blew from the south towards the north-northwestern directions.

In South Kalimantan, five flights faced delays in their departure schedules. According to the local airport operator official Heru Widiatmo, visibility at the airport at 6 a.m. local time, on Tuesday, was still normal at 800 meters, but thirty minutes later, the visibility reduced further. 

"Visibility was only about 300 meters at 6:45 a.m. local time, thereby causing flights to be delayed as pilots chose not to operate them," Sutopo remarked.

On Monday, Banjarbaru and Banjarmasin were engulfed in thick haze, which caused breathing problems among the residents in the two South Kalimantan cities. 

Dark smoke filled nearly all the streets in the two cities after the conditions remained normal for almost two weeks.

"At 6 a.m. local time, the air is fresh, but 30 minutes later, thick smoke blew across the city," Wita, a mother from northern Banjarbaru, claimed. 

The visibility was limited, and the odor was so strong that the passersby and motorists had to wear masks, Wita stated.

The smoke originated from several bush fires not far from the city. A fairly large fire ravaged tens of hectares of open bush land in that area. The fire, which spread rapidly, completely ravaged a public health center in Liang Anggang.

In the nearby provincial city of Banjarmasin, the people were already complaining about the inconvenience caused by the thick smoke over the past several days, and on Monday, the condition deteriorated as thicker smoke rolled into the city.

Thick haze also covered the Buntok City of South Barito District in Central Kalimantan province, over the past two days. The haze hindered daily activities of the locals and motorists as it reduced visibility on various roads in the district.

Head of the Health Care Service of South Barito District Djulita K. Palar called on the residents to reduce their outdoor activities and to wear masks if they had to venture out.

"If the residents experience symptoms of respiratory tract diseases, then they should visit the health care center to check their health," Palar emphasized.

Besides affecting the regions in South and Central Kalimantan, the haze has also engulfed areas in South Sumatra and Jambi provinces.

Several local activists in Palembang, South Sumatra, have complained about the inconvenience and disturbances caused due to the haze. It is believed that the haze spread in the province during the drought in September, declined in October, but early this month, it resurfaced.

"Smoke covered the Palembang City and the adjoining areas. It happened to decrease in October, but now, it is blanketing South Sumatra again," environmental activist Dedek Chaniago noted in Palembang on Monday.

On Monday morning, several airlines were forced to delay the departure of their flights from Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Airport of Palembang. Due to limited visibility, the nations flag carrier Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air each delayed two flights, and CitiLink had to delay one of its flights to Jakarta.

"One could see only as far as 200 meters ahead at 6 a.m. local time," an airport official remarked, adding that "no takeoff occurred until 8:30 a.m. local time."

Bad weather coupled with thick clouds have frequently affected flights in Palembang over the past three months, he pointed out.

The forest fires in 300 locations have ravaged over 10 thousand hectares of bush lands in seven regencies in the province.

Some farmers had unlawfully started bushfires in order to clear the land for farming.

In Jambi province, thick haze has shrouded the city over the past two days. In the past week, the clouds dissipated as the rains fell. 

Forest Protection Head of Jambis Forest Service Bestari stated on Monday that the NOAA satellite images showed only 13 hotspots in various districts in Jambi. However, he claimed to have no knowledge about the origin of the haze.

"The satellite detected 13 hotspots in Jambi: four in Tebo District, three in Sarolangung, two in West Tanjung Jabung, and one hotspot each in East Tanjung Jabung, Batanghari, Bungo, and Merangin," he revealed. 

In the meantime, the number of hotspots detected in South Sumatra reached 169, Lampung province (29), and Riau province (6)," noted Bestari.

According to Sutopo of the BNPB, the number of hotspots in South Sumatra in October stood at 3,282, of which 2,420 or 74 percent were in the OKI District.

"As hotspots are still surfacing, the government, in this case the BNPB, continues to make efforts to put out the forest fires," Sutopo remarked. 

He said that BNPB head Syamusl Maarif had urged the regional and central government officials to assist in extinguishing the forest fires.

He had earlier stated that the efforts should be directed at activating the land task force, and it should implement law enforcement measures to cope with the forest fires.

"The BNPB is still mobilizing helicopters and other planes to conduct weather modification and produce artificial rain to put out the fires. The government has set aside more than Rp330 billion for that purpose," Sutopo added. (Antara)

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