- Visibility declined in South Sumatra despite recent rain.
- Indonesian military personnel have found evidence of illegal logging in South Sumatra province.
- The government of the Philippines has cautioned that haze could return amid typhoon season.
After months spent focusing on wildfires across Sumatra and Kalimantan, some Indonesian disaster management officials were on Tuesday turning their attention to preventing floods in several parts of the archipelago. Air pollution levels from fires continued to decline in all but one province following a recent spurt of rain – visibility in the South Sumatra capital Palembang was around 500 meters on Tuesday morning.
“Thin smoke continues in Kerumutan district in Riau despite the rain,” Indonesian disaster management spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Tuesday.
In South Sumatra, a military task force patrolling in Musi Banyuasin regency said it had found evidence of abandoned campsites deep in the forest used by illegal loggers.
“We would not have found this illegal logging area if we hadn’t been conducting this search on foot,” Indonesian army Lt. Col. Wahy said. “You can’t see it from the air.”
Louis Verchot, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), said after a recent visit to Central Kalimantan province that the Indonesian government’s official figure of around 500,000 cases of respiratory ailments from the smog was likely an underestimate because of the likely number of unreported cases.
“People in rural areas seek medical attention when it’s really bad,” Verchot said. “I’m pretty sure it’s an underestimate. This must be the people who are seriously affected.”
Elsewhere in the region, the government of the Philippines declared the country haze-free late last month, but the department of health has cautioned that typhoon season could see some pollution return.
“We are not actually easing our guards because the forest fires are still going on in Indonesia, which might be aggravated by the entry of three more typhoons this year that can once again bring the haze from Indonesia,” said health ministry spokesman Paulo Fantojan.
Davao and the southern region of Mindanao have been the areas most affected by haze.
Singapore will be a crucial state party in applying pressure on Indonesia to implement its planned commitments to address the underlying causes of annual fires. Part of that pressure is likely to stem from economic costs as well as health impacts on a country that considers itself out in front in the region on environmental policy.
Several business sectors in the city state have seen sales dented by this year’s haze as government health advice warned people to stay indoors.
“I am desperate to earn back what we have lost,” said a restaurant owner. “We had so many cancellations for events and reservations during the haze.”
The general manager of Singapore’s open-top tour bus company said sales had fallen 8 percent in September year on year. A theme park operator said gates were down 12 percent in the same period.
“We want to get people out of their homes again,” said Kevin Cheong, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attraction. “The last two months of the year are our peak business period.”