Indonesia sends aircraft to seed clouds

THE BIG HAZE

INDONESIA’S air force yesterday sent four aircraft to Pekan Baru in Sumatra for cloud-seeding operations as forest fires threatened more areas and Asean environment ministers gathered for today’s meeting in Jakarta.

Air Vice Marshal Irawan Saleh, the assistant chief for operations, said the aircraft and crew, from a base in Malang in east Java, would begin the operations tomorrow for 30 days in an attempt to clear the haze affecting parts of the country and neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

They would fly eight sorties a day to offload 800 kg of salt, a necessary ingredient in the cloud-seeding operation.

The Antara national news agency reported that thick smoke and haze from forest fires continued to cover north Sumatra and central Kalimantan provinces, causing further disruption to air traffic.

Officials at the Indonesian Environment Ministry said that more than 300,000 hectares of forest and plantation land in the two provinces had been razed since May.

Since last Friday, almost 400 hectares of forest on Mount Ciremei in west Java and hundreds of hectares on Mount Ciremei in central Java have been ravaged.

Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja said yesterday that on-going satellite monitoring had shown up 24 fire flare spots in Kalimantan and 19 in parts of Sumatra.

Mr Sarwono will host today’s three-day ministerial meeting. It will discussing short, medium and long-term measures to tackle the haze problem.

Environmental experts from Canada, Japan and the United States will attend. The meeting will be opened by Indonesia’s President Suharto.

It will also look at ways of coping with regional climatic changes brought about by the El Nino phenomenon – the ocean-warming effect that has given Indonesia its worst drought in half a century.

The Indonesian government is also hitting hard at firms that resort to land clearing by burning.

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