Southeast Asia Likely Spared Choking Haze as Rain Damps Fires

Southeast Asia is likely to be spared the choking haze which has blanketed the region in recent years, with a wetter-than-normal dry season in Indonesia expected to curb fire numbers.

Smog blanketed parts of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia for months in2019, with more than 16,000 hot spots — areas on satellite imagery that show suspected fires — across Indonesia during the peak in September, according to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. More than 1.6 million hectares of land was burnt in total.

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This year,data from the ministry shows the country’s hot spots have fallen 80% year-on-year in August to 682. Hot spot numbers are the lowestsince 2013, the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre said on Aug 24.

The favorable fire outlook will come as a relief to the Indonesian government, which has had to set aside billions of dollars to counter theeconomic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, that has so far killed 6,680 people in the country. Fires last year alonecost the country $5.2 billion of economic losses, according to the World Bank.

“It would be a ‘deadly duel’ to have wildfires and the coronavirus, we don’t want any haze occurring during the pandemic,” said Ruandha Agung Sugardiman, director general for climate change control at the environment ministry.

About 80% of Indonesia’s regions are already in dry season this month, with rainfall expected to be normal to above average in some parts of the archipelago, said Hary Tirto Djatmiko, head of dissemination of climate information at the country’sMeteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency.

Meanwhile, the government has conducted cloud seeding since March to dampen peat land and cut fire numbers. And there’s also the possibility ofLa Nina, which typically brings more rainfall to the region, within the next three months, according to theASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre, which could help lower the risk.

Still, even though wetter than normal condition are forecast over the equatorial region until October, the risk of land and forest fires and haze cannot be ruled out, with dry conditions still expected over some parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan, according to the ASMC. Indonesia plans to continue cloud seeding over parts of those regions this month to keep moisture in peat lands.

“We expect to be more prepared this year, to have fewer hot spots and less land burnt,” Sugardiman said.

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