Fires have been raging in the archipelago for more than a month. They are often malicious and set in forests to make way for oil palm and acacia plantations. Activists denounce that small farmers are blamed for fires caused by large corporations.
Jakarta (AsiaNews / Agencies) - While forest fires are raging at the height of the dry season, thousands of Muslims yesterday took part in prayer gatherings on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo) to ask for rain on smoke-filled cities. Fires have been raging in the archipelago for more than a month. To combat the flames, the government has deployed 9,000 military, police and disaster management agency personnel.
The specialized meteorological center of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASMC) declares that the total number of fires active in Kalimantan is 474; 387 are underway in Sumatra. In recent days, neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore have complained to the Indonesian government about the smog caused by the flames: fires are often arson and set in the forests to make way for boundless oil palm and acacia plantations.
Jakarta rejects the accusations and claims that the satellites have identified fires in other countries as well. the Indonesian Meteorological Department explains that, in recent months, several regions of Southeast Asia are experiencing unusually dry weather conditions due to the climatic phenomenon known as El Niño. The Indonesian disaster mitigation agency (Bnpb) says the Indonesian authorities are using 37 helicopters and 239 million liters of water bombs to extinguish the flames. Planes spinning On the affected areas to create artificial clouds are hoping to generate rain.
Some communities have resorted to prayer, hoping to end the dry climate and the resulting haze. Thousands of people in Pekanbaru (photo 2), capital of Riau province (Sumatra), yesterday prayed Islamic prayers for rain outside the governor's office. Many of the participants wore masks to protect themselves from smoke.
Similar prayers have been held in some cities of Kalimantan, where the quality of the air is so unhealthy as to force the authorities to keep the schools closed. Several mosques in Malaysia have also encouraged the faithful to pray. This was revealed by Mohamad Nordin, head of the Malaysian Department for Islamic Development.
Jakarta is also taking legal action to deter farmers from illegally using fire to clear land. The police reported to the media that criminal cases were started against 175 people; four palm oil companies are accused of negligence. But the Indonesian Environment Forum (Walhi) states that small farmers are blamed for fires caused by plantation companies.