El Niño is still up to his old tricks, and more. His relentless force continues to cause unfavorable conditions in the region and ignite a new host of problems, including wildfires throughout the island of New Guinea. The wildfires are becoming increasingly fierce in Papua, causing the cancellation of flights in and out of the Timika airport, damaging air quality for the local population (which has triggered a serious public health problem for them), and sending pollution into the Pacific.
We were supposed to return to jobsite early this morning from vacation, but the Timika Airport is nonoperational due to poor visibility from smoke. The airport can only operate when the pilot’s visibility is at or above 1.6km, which can change daily. As of now, we are scheduled to fly out early Friday morning, but air quality conditions need to improve for that to happen.
News articles are asserting that the wildfires were started by Papuan tribes when they tried clearing their land for hunting and/or for making it more fertile for planting. It is customary for the people to engage in this type of slash and burn gardening, but, during the unusual El Niño season, the fires got out of control and quickly spread. According to the Jakarta Post, “around 300 military personnel [were recently] deployed to put out fires in several areas, especially in Merauke and Mappi regencies.”
The timing of the fires couldn’t have been worse. Many families from jobsite are in the process of returning from October break, leaving them stranded in Bali or Cairns, Australia. When we return to jobsite, severe water restrictions have been reimplemented, leaving us with limited water usage. So, as of now, we are stuck in Bali…sitting by the pool, enjoying tropical drinks, and doing the rain dance.