Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Flights diverted as haze blankets Indonesian province

Thick smoke caused by forest fires blanketing Indonesia's Riau province on Sumatra island forced the brief closure of the local airport on Tuesday, an official said. Five flights were diverted to airports in neighboring provinces after the haze reduced visibility to below 1 kilometre on Tuesday morning, said Dedi Suryana, chief of the Sultan Syarif Kasim airport in Pekanbaru, the provincial capital. "There were some delays in departures and arrivals but we have reopened now," he said. Haze also blanketed several states in Malaysia last week after winds brought in choking haze over Sumatra. Dry-season haze regularly covers much of Indonesia and drifts across the Southeast Asian region, causing health problems and millions of dollars of losses from falling tourism revenue and flight disruptions. Indonesia has the third-most forest cover of any tropical country, but since 2000 it has lost more than 1.8 million hectares of forest due to logging, agriculture and fires, according to the environmental group Greenpeace. Indonesia has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak law enforcement has allowed the activity to continue.