Riau flights hit by haze from forest fires, cropland clearing

JAKARTA: Thick haze from forest fires and cropland clearing has blanketed Indonesia's Riau on Sumatra island, limiting visibility and disrupting flights to and from the province, officials and news reports said yesterday. 

“The haze has limited visibility to only about 300m at 6am this morning,” an official at Pekan Baru's Sultan Syarif Kasim airport said by telephone. 

The official, who declined to be named, said visibility improved three hours later allowing the first airplane to land at the airport. 

Hundreds of passengers were packed at waiting rooms in Pekan Baru airport after a number of airplanes failed to land or take off, the official Antara news agency reported. 

Residents of Pekan Baru, the capital of Riau, 1,080km north-west of Jakarta, complained the irritating smoke was covering the city, particularly in the afternoons and mornings. 

Local authorities said that forest fires and open field burnings are ravaging through the province's six districts and municipalities. 

Based on satellite monitoring by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, as many as 435 hotspots were detected in various districts in the province. 

Indonesia banned the practice of open burning in 1999 after widespread fires caused a thick haze to blanket parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore that year. 

However, enforcement of the law is often lax.  

The annual haze phenomenon is at its worst during the dry season which runs from July to October. – dpa 

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