Haze from forest fires in Indonesia's Riau islands is blowing towards Singapore, and the number of hot spots is rising although the situation is still far from the worst days of 2006.
There were 59 fires burning in Riau on 18th Feb, up from 35 a day earlier, when the province's main airport was shut for about 1-1/2 hours because of poor visibility and four flights were diverted.
In Sumatra, there were 160 hot spots. Most of them - 62 - were in Aceh, a fraction of the 8,000 hot spots recorded in 2006 during Singapore's worst haze period in recent years.
The fires in Sumatra started after the government lifted a year-long moratorium on the use of peatland forests by palm oil companies, angering environmental groups which say the decision will contribute to global warming.
The Jakarta government will start issuing permits, which have been withheld since December 2007, immediately in areas that meet certain criteria, said Mr Ahmad Manggabarani, Indonesia's director- general of plantation crops at the agriculture ministry.
The ministry estimates that two million hectares out of 25 million hectares of peatland are eligible for oil palm plantations.
The decision threatens to undermine Indonesia's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land use and fashion itself as a leader on the environment among tropical countries.
Gatot Irianto, head of research and development for the Agriculture Ministry, said “We still need land for oil palm plantations. We must be honest: the sector has been the main driver for the people’s economy”.
Indonesia is home to some 20 million hectares of peatlands, which store billions of tons of carbon. Clearance, drainage and fires in peatlands worldwide accounts for more than 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, or about 10 percent of global emissions, according to Wetlands International, an environmental group. Indonesia is the third-highest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind China and the United States.
The Straits Times, “Haze heading for Singapore”, 19 Feb 2009, http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_340...
Xinhua News, “Thick Haze leads to closure of airport in Riau, Indonesia”, 17 Feb 2009, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-02/17/content_10833679.htm
Mongabay.com, Indonesia may allow conversion of peatlands for palm oil
mongabay.com , 15 Feb 2009, http://news.mongabay.com/2009/0215-indonesia.html