Haze Disrupted Air Transport in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore

Firemen fight fires in Selangor, near Kuala Lumpur on September 14 (Photo: BERNAMA HAK CIPTA TERPELIHARA)

Haze from fires set in Sumatra and Kalimantan in neighbouring Indonesia totally disrupted flights from and to Singapore as well as to Johor Bahru airports in Malaysia. A well-to known story as it happens every year while Indonesian and Malaysian authorities seem powerless to control forests’ burning.

It makes generally headlines in Singapore media every year- and increasingly twice a year.Air quality worsened to nearly unhealthy levels on Friday September 13, wrote for example the Strait Times over the week-end with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), a benchmark measuring air quality, reached 98 in southern Singapore, the area facing Indonesian Riau archipelago. If the PSI reaches 101, air quality is considered unhealthy and over that index dangerous…

Singapore National Environment Agency (NEA) explained on Friday evening that fire spots have been detected in both Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia. But Singapore was essentially affected by fires and haze originated from Sumatra island based on wind direction. The agency detected on Friday 156 fire spots in the southern part of the island. The situation improved at the start of the week. According to the NEA, the weather in Singapore is expected to be generally dry with winds over the City State eventually bringing slightly hazy conditions. Dry weather is forecast over central and southern Sumatra with haze situation expected to persist.

Haze over Singapore on September 13 (photo: Straits Times JASON QUAH)

Haze reached also extremely unhealthy levels in the State of Perak in northwestern Peninsular Malaysia as well as in Melaka, Putrajaya and Selangor -including Kuala Lumpur- as well as in Sarawak and Sabah (Borneo) as PSI reached over 200 in some areas, an extremely hazardous level for health. In Melaka, events have for example been cancelled. Schools are being closed in many areas of Borneo, Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia.

This year still worst than ever as dry weather is predicted to persist over Kalimantan and Sumatra over the next few weeks. According to Ms. Aqeela Samat, a palm oil demand specialist for the World Wide Fund for Nature, Singapore (WWF-Singapore) to Singapore Straits Times, Indonesia is currently experiencing its worst annual fire season since 2015, with fires this year razing an area at least two-thirds the size of Singapore.

In Malaysia, the Ministry in charge of the Environment and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin has put the blame on Indonesia, indicated that the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) detected more than 1,600 hotspots in Kalimantan and Sumatra last week while the number of fires in Malaysia was reduced from 50 to a dozen.

A row has been engaged between the Malaysian minister and her counterpart in Indonesia, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar. Both ministers should however work and fight together against criminal practices of large palm oil companies, which are the ones to be blamed for the ecological disaster.

A forest fire in the Province of Riau in Indonesia on September 9 (Photo: AFP)

The Indonesian minister indicated that authorities sealed off plantations operated by 29 companies, including four subsidiaries of Malaysian groups and one Singaporean firm, after fires were detected in their concessions. She further stressed last Friday that the government will prosecute a number of these companies as a deterrent to setting fires. An official at the Indonesian National Disaster Mitigation Agency, or BNPB, indicated for example that 80% of forest areas that have been hit by past fires in one district of Riau have been converted into plantations. About 333,000 hectares of forests in Indonesia have been hit by fire so far this year, and the blazes are expected to continue until mid October.

Air transport has been disrupted over the week end by persistent haze with flights being delayed or cancelled out of Johor Bahru, Singapore and Ipoh in the State of Perak. In Indonesia. the Lion Air Group canceled at least 81 flights, delayed 63 and diverted nine other on Sunday alone. Garuda Indonesia and its budget subsidiary Citilink reported at least 18 cancellations. More disruptions were expected on Monday.

Travellers are then advised to avoid visiting areas affected by the fires for the time being and report their travel, once air quality reaches healthier levels again.