The "haze season" is back in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia. Forest fires in Riau (Sumatra) are the main cause of smoke that has been carried to Singapore and Malaysia over the weekend. But also fires in West and Central Kalimantan have caused local haze. Hundreds of firefighters and military personnel were deployed to combat forest fires in Riau where 162 hotspots were counted over the past couple of days. Indonesian farmers' (illegal) slash-and-burn practices (aimed at clearing land) are the cause, while dry and hot weather exacerbate the situation.
Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said the number of hotspots in Indonesia has actually declined drastically on a year-on-year basis. So far this year, a total of 12,884 hotspots were counted, down 60.6 percent (y/y) from 32,734 hotspots that were seen in the same period one year earlier. This positive development is attributed to enhanced monitoring by the central and local governments as well as a higher degree of awareness about environmental sustainable practices among Indonesian agriculture companies.
Another key reason that explains fewer forest fires in Indonesia this summer is that last year's dry season was much worse due to the El Nino weather phenomenon (that brought severe drought to Southeast Asia), while this year the La Nina weather phenomenon brings wetter-than-usual circumstances to Indonesia (expected until the first quarter of 2017).
BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said there are big risks of forest fires (until September) in those provinces located near the equator. These provinces includes Riau, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan. Between Friday and Sunday, a total of 338 forest fires were detected on Sumatra and Kalimantan.
In Riau, where the air pollution index touched a level of 364 on Monday (meaning "very unhealthy" conditions), schools were ordered to shut down for the whole week. However, rain has somewhat improved the situation since.
On Monday (29/08) Malaysia's Perak recorded an "unhealthy" air pollution index of 119, followed by "near unhealthy" air levels in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya. Meanwhile, Singapore's air pollution index showed a "very unhealthy level" and therefore local authorities advised citizens to reduce outdoor activities. Earlier, in response to the forest fires and haze last year, Singapore's authorities said it will make attempts to take legal action against those Indonesian individuals and companies that are responsible for the forest fires on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan that resulted in the severe haze that spread to Singapore (and other parts of Southeast Asia) in 2015. The toxic smog caused economic costs in Indonesia's neighboring countries.
Last year man-made forest fires on Sumatra and Kalimantan were among the worst natural disasters ever. Based on a World Bank report - released in December 2015 - some 100,000 man-made forest fires destroyed about 2.6 million hectares of land (between June and October 2015) and caused toxic haze to spread to other parts of Southeast Asia, giving rise to diplomatic troubles. This disaster is estimated to have cost Indonesia IDR 221 trillion (approx. USD $16 billion or 1.9 percent of the country's gross domestic product).