Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Almost 27 million people are at serious risk for respiratory problems in Sumatra because of the dense smoke that has blanketed the island for days. The polluting haze is due to bush fires that cannot be easily extinguished because of prolonged drought conditions.
The Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB*) recently reported that the situation on Indonesia’s third largest island has been aggravated by illegal oil palm growers who deliberately set fire to forested areas to clear the land.
In Pekanbaru, capital of Riau province, local authorities set up some air quality indicators, urging residents not to leave home unless absolutely necessary. Since yesterday, the air pollution index topped the established limit of 300.
The smoke emergency affected the country last year when, according to Pekanbaru Health Department data, 30,000 people suffered severe respiratory problems due to the smoke.
A local doctor said that every day 20 patients come in with some respiratory, eye or skin problem caused by the smoke.
In response to the emergency, President Joko Widodo ordered BNBP chief General (ret) Syamsul Maarif to take quick action to address the issue by setting up free health care facilities in the most affected areas.
Environmental groups are planning joint action using fire-fighting helicopters and Canadair planes.
On the island of Sumatra, smoke is so thick that visibility is down to 500 metres during the day and 300 metres at night. For this reason, the Jambi international airport was shut down.
In Riau province, dozens of schools and the local airport were also closed.
* Indonesian: Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana.