Haze thickens as El Nino worsens

The suffocating haze is set to prolong further by the El Nino dry spell, said to be among the strongest since records were kept in the 1950s.

More than 5,000 personnel, including military and police, have been working round the clock to get residents access to medical help. Aircrafts continue to water bomb hot spots and "cloud seed" the skies to induce rain.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo surveying the burnt land yesterday in Banjarbaru, South Kalimantan, where he also visited emergency workers deployed to help fight the fires there.PHOTO: INDONESIA STATE SECRETARY
Indonesia President Joko Widodo had declared a state of emergency in Riau province, one of the worst affected areas. 

Yesterday, the masked President went down to the ground with emergency workers deployed to help fight the fires in Banjarbaru, South Kalimantan, before heading to Sumatra, where he also inspected ground conditions and fire-fighting efforts in Jambi. 

The Indonesian Palm Oil Association or Gabungan Pengusaha Kelapa Sawit Indonesia (Gapki), too, had been responding positively as its member companies are mobilising fire-fighting units to help put out the flames.

But like the years before, such positive efforts often go unnoticed because the truth is not sexy when pit against damning allegations. Inevitably, those who are more skilful at spreading rumours and attracting media attention continue to influence public perception.

"Members of Gapki have been conscientiously implementing good agricultural practices. We are committed to zero burning policy. This means no slash-and-burn to clear up land for new plantings or re-plantings," Gapki chairman Joko Supriyono reportedly told Antara News earlier this week.

Indeed, people living in the estates are also suffering and in need of medical attention from the ongoing haze. Slash and burn assumptions randomly thrown at estate owners just does not make sense. 

"Why would companies, that have invested trillions of rupiahs, want to take the risk of having their permits revoked just because they want to save the cost of land clearing?" Gapki's Joko questioned.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in the Central Kalimantan capital of Palangkaraya shot as high as 1,992. Any PSI reading over 350 is rated as hazardous; while the range of 151 to 250 is considered unhealthy.

"The number of hot spots rose again, including fires in South Sumatra... that were previously doused but have re-emerged. 

"Border areas such as Jambi in South Sumatra - where fires occur in far-flung, hard-to-reach places - have also registered a spike in the number of hot spots," said BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho during a press briefing yesterday.

Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency or Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana (BNPB) said more money is needed to deal with the crisis.

"BNPB may use up all 385 billion rupiah in government funding earmarked to deal with the fires by end-September and it will have to turn to a 2.5 trillion rupiah 'on-call fund' set aside for other types of disasters," said Sutopo.