From: Nopporn Wong-Anan, Reuters, SINGAPORE
Published October 22, 2010 07:05 AM

Sumatra burning creates serious haze impacting Malaysia and Singapore

Illegal forest clearing fires in Indonesia's Sumatra Island are sending haze across the Malacca Strait to neighboring Malaysia and Singapore, causing the worst air pollution since 2006, officials said on Thursday.

Despite pledge among governments to deter fires, the haze prompted Malaysia to alert vessels in the Malacca Strait of poor visibility as short as 2 nautical miles and shut many schools.

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Singapore, covered in thick smoke this week, saw its air pollution index hit the highest level since 2006 on Wednesday. The port and international airport are still functioning as normal.

"The suspicion is that this is coming from forests that have been opened up for plantations. We think it may be for palm oil," Purwasto Saroprayogi, head of the land and forest fires department at Indonesia's Environment Ministry, told Reuters.

Saroprayogi said the haze was caused by fires lit to clear land illegally in Dumai and Bengkalis districts in Riau province, in the north of Sumatra island.

Indonesia has a long history of weak forestry law enforcement and illegal land clearing by palm oil developers is not uncommon.

Fires clear land quickly and reduce the acidity of peatland soil, but release vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the air.

The haze returned to the region less than a week after environment ministers in Southeast Asia met in Brunei to address land and forest fires, which drew immediate flak from neighbors.

Photo shows firefighters working to extinguish fires in a forest in Bengkalis district in Indonesia's Riau province October 21, 2010. Illegal forest clearing by fire in Indonesia's Sumatra Island is sending haze across the Straits of Malacca to neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore, causing the worst air pollution since 2006, Singaporean officials said on Thursday.  Credit: REUTERS/Najla Hafiz

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE69K1WF20101021

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