Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Rain has reduced pollution levels in Indonesian cities for the first time since forest fires broke out in August.
Cloud-seeding aircraft deployed to trigger rain to help clear the smoke were partly responsible for the precipitation, bringing relief especially to Kalimantan and Sumatra, the worst affected areas.
Indonesia’s National Weather Agency (Badan Meteorologi, Klimatologi dan Geofisika, BMKG) said that with the exception of Palembang, the capital of Sumatra, all major urban centres were below harmful levels.
Transportation has been disrupted and schools have been closed. In some provinces, the pollution level reached ten times the acceptable limit.
On 17 October, Indonesia launched the largest anti-fire operation in its history to bring the emergency under control. Nineteen deaths and up to half a million cases of respiratory infections have been blamed on the raging forest fires so far.
Last week, the authorities announced a plan to compensate families for the loss of loved ones killed by pollution, and evacuate people by sea from the areas most at risk.
On 29 October, at the 11th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in Hanoi, Vietnam, Southeast Asian environment ministers agreed on a plan to prevent future environmental emergencies. The talks led to the adoption of an anti-haze roadmap aimed at cutting pollution levels over the next five years.
Speaking at a press yesterday, ASEAN Permanent Secretary Kasemsant Jinnawaso said, “ASEAN countries representatives approved the decision to work on the roadmap, as it will be [an] integrative plan to address the haze problem together".
All the parties, the permanent secretary said, will have to reduce carbon emissions and control the fires, as well as report each year on developments. Next year’s meeting will be held in Bangkok.
"I understand that making ASEAN a haze-free region by 2020 is quite challenging or unrealistic. However, we need collaboration from the top international framework to the local level in order to reduce the haze as much as possible," he said.
ASEAN will use money from an anti-haze fund to finance, among other things, restoration of peat swamp forests and conservation projects in Indonesia in areas burnt by oil palm farmers.