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    Oct 07, 2015

    Indonesia doing its best with haze: disaster chief


    INDONESIA'S disaster chief yesterday rejected criticism that his country was not doing enough to combat the haze, saying every possible resource was being deployed to fight the forest fires blanketing South-east Asia in smog.

    Indonesia has come under growing pressure from its neighbours in recent weeks as thick smoke from fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan has sent pollution levels soaring in Malaysia and Singapore.

    The blazes flare annually during the dry season as fires are illegally set to clear land for cultivation. But an El Nino weather system has made conditions on track to become the most severe on record.

    Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has urged Indonesia to take action, saying only Jakarta has the authority to investigate the cause of the fires and convict those responsible. But Indonesia rejected suggestions that it is not doing enough, with the country's disaster chief saying everything possible was being utilised. "We have done the best we can," Willem Rampangilei told reporters.

    "It is understandable if other countries are upset, but we Indonesians are more upset."

    Singapore has offered to help combat the fires, volunteering a Hercules plane and IT expertise, but Indonesia has insisted it has the equipment necessary to do the job.

    Mr Willem said Indonesia had four planes on standby to conduct cloud seeding, but conditions in the past week had stymied attempts to produce artificial rain.

    Efforts by more than a dozen helicopters to water-bomb hot spots have several times been thwarted by thick smoke, he added.

    He said more troops and police would be deployed to fight the fires, while authorities were considering dumping 40 tonnes of fire retardant on smouldering peatlands.

    More than 1,200 hot spots were still active in Sumatra and Kalimantan as of yesterday, the disaster agency said, while 140,000 people have reported respiratory infections due to the thick smog.

    In Singapore, the National Environment Agency said at about 7.30pm yesterday that the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index for the next 24 hours was expected to be in the mid to high sections of the unhealthy range, and may drop to the low end of the range.

    "Visibility is expected to remain poor particularly in the morning, and improve gradually through the day if the haze situation eases," the agency added.