/ Agencies ) - The smoke caused by the fires in the Sumatra forests, Indonesia,
is causing respiratory problems and serious damage to the health of more than
30 thousand people, combined with an alarming increase in the level of
pollution in the region. The
smoke clouds billowing from the fires has now reached alarming levels in different
areas of Riau province, including the provincial capital Pekanbaru, with
visibility reduced to less than 200 meters. Several
flights have been cancelled and road travel is difficult. Sutopo
Nugroh , spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency (Bnpb) , reports
that "cases of respiratory infections, and other diseases such as
pneumonia, asthma, and irritation to the eyes and skin are on the increase".
Satellite images taken yesterday show more than 330 outbreaks of fires in Riau. The Civil Defence was ready to use planes and helicopters to douse the flames , but have been were stranded because of reduced visibility. The BNPB spokesman confirms that a dense and thick blanket of smog has made operations too risky.
Meanwhile, the police have arrested 28 people in Riau, suspected of having deliberately started the many fires that have been plaguing the area for days. The investigators are looking for evidence to prosecute companies or individual business people (from Indonesia and Singapore), who -according to the prosecution - employ farmers and residents of the area to set fire to large portions of the forest.
The smoke rising from Sumatra's burning forests has become an annual phenomenon, particularly in the dry season, with affects that reach other nations of Southeast Asia including Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. These countries are characterized by high levels of air pollution, which experts judge "alarming", and which is further aggravated by smoke and smog. Originally the fires were believed to have been caused by farmers preparing land for planting by burning shrubs and other waste material, but many also believe that unscrupulous businessmen are behind the fires fueled by their hunger for profit through a savage deforestation.