Indonesia adds more water-dropping helicopters to fight forest, peat fires that create haze

Indonesia on Wednesday added more water-dropping helicopters to fight forest and plantation wildfires that are spreading haze across the region, limiting visibility and increasing air pollution.

A Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter joined three other planes that have been combatting fires in South Sumatra province in the past two weeks.

Intensifying the firefighting efforts is especially necessary in areas that are difficult to reach by land, said Yulizar Dinoto, chief of the provincial disaster mitigation agency.

Haze from peat and forest fires have blanketed the province's capital Palembang in past days, shortening visibility in the streets to around 100 meters and causing respiratory problems to many residents.

Some 284 hotspots were detected across Sumatra, most of which were in southern Sumatra, while 17 were in neighboring Riau province, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the national disaster management,.

Neighboring Singapore and Malaysia have had increased air pollution, with forest fire haze a possible factor.

The Indonesian Parliament on Tuesday ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution, aiming to make Southeast Asian countries more active in fighting forest fires and haze. Other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations signed the agreement in 2002.

Regional haze caused by land clearing in Indonesia was recorded as one of the worst years of the last decade in 2013, prompting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to apologize to his neighbors.