Saturday September 4, 05:55 PM (INDONESIA) - More than 1,100 forest firesburning in central Indonesia have enveloped the region in a choking hazethat's reduced air quality and delayed flights, officials said.
Bush fires have sent smoke billowing over large parts of Indonesia'sSumatra and Kalimantan islands in recent months, and the cloud has alsospread to neighbouring Malaysia.
Meteorologist Ahmad Hidayat said satellite images show 610 fires burningin Central Kalimantan and 502 in South Kalimantan. "The hot spots arespreading," he said.
Air quality in both countries has dropped. Malaysian officials have warnedthe problem - which has occurred sporadically since 1997 - is hurtingregional tourism.
"The haze causes harm to citizens' health and the smell from the hazedisturbs our activities," said Hidayat, speaking from the CentralKalimantan city of Palangkaraya. "As a result, we've distributed facemasks to school children and residents who ask for them."
Commercial flights into Banjarmasin have been delayed since Thursday asvisibility dropped below 500 metres, said Lalu Sukaresi of the city'sairport authority.
In 1997-98, fires set mainly on oil palm plantations and farms inIndonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan provinces burned out of control forweeks, destroying 10 million hectares (25 million acres), and blanketingSingapore and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia with thick smoke.
Economic losses from those fires topped $US9.3 billion euro ($A13.39billion) and prompted a 2002 agreement among six of the 10 Association ofSouth-East Asian Nations members to fight fire pollution. Indonesia hasyet to ratify the deal.
Indonesia's central government has expressed concern about the fires, butinsisted it was up to the regional governments to handle the matter. Theregional governments, in turn, complain they have no money to fight thefires.