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Rain Helps Ease Haze from Indonesian Fires

Worker attempts to contain a wildfire razing peatland field in Pedamaran, South Sumatra, Indonesia, Oct. 27, 2015.

A brief rainfall has helped disperse haze in several regions of Indonesia affected by forest fires.

The governor of Riau province in northern Sumatra said Wednesday a 90-minute rainfall cleared much of the smoke and improved visibility to a point where commercial airlines could again operate in the area.

But Luhut Panjaitan, coordinating minister of Politics, Law and Security, told reporters that much more rain is needed to help put out the massive fires.

"This week we have rain. If we have intensive rain for four days consecutively and our water bombings continue, I hope next week we’d back to normal," he said. "That’s our hope but again it all depends on how much rain we have."

He added that he has asked government agencies to exploit the potential of creating artificial rain.

Indonesia has come under heavy pressure from its neighbors and environmental groups to crack down on the nearly annual practice of companies setting forest fires, frequently to make way for palm oil plantations.

Thousands have developed respiratory infections due to the smoke, and many environmental NGOs plan to sue the government, alleging officials have ignored the well-being of communities affected by the smoke.

More than 22,000 police and military personnel have been deployed to combat more than 1,600 fires spread across six provinces.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Indonesian service.