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Indonesia Fires Concern Singapore

March 8, 2000

SINGAPORE (AP) _ Singapore expressed concern to Indonesia today over smoky haze clouding skies in the city-state from forest fires raging in the neighboring country.

In Jakarta, Soni Keraf, Indonesia’s state minister of the environment, acknowledged that forest fires blazing in Sumatra, and West Kalimantan in Borneo, had reached ``an emergency level.″

Between 200 and 300 hot spots have been detected in Riau province, in eastern Sumatra opposite Singapore, and in West Kalimantan, the minister said.

By midafternoon, Singapore’s Pollutant Standards Index reading had risen to 65, from 26 in the morning. A reading of 50 or below is considered ``good,″ while 50-100 is ``moderate″ and higher than 100 ``unhealthy.″

``The situation is better than yesterday, there is better visibility,″ said Singapore Meteorological Service spokesman Wong Teo Suan. ``There was rain in the fire areas, it helped put out some of the fires.″

Nevertheless, Singapore Environment Minister Lee Yock Suan sent a letter of concern this morning to his Indonesian counterpart, said Lee’s press secretary, Khoo Seow Poh.

Neighboring Malaysia had no haze problems, said a representative of Malaysia’s national Meteorological Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Checks at more than 30 monitoring stations, including those along the west coast that are closest to the fires burning in Sumatra, showed that visibility was ``good,″ or at six miles or more, the representative said.

Indonesian officials have said that firefighting teams are not equipped to deal with the problem and have requested assistance from the military.

Air pollution from illegal land-clearing fires in Indonesia has become an annual problem during the region’s midyear dry season. The situation was disastrous in 1997, when thick haze drifted across to Singapore and Malaysia, causing health problems and hurting the tourist trade.

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