03/04/2014, 00.00
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Fires in Sumatra: 30 thousand people affected by smoke and smog, severe respiratory problems

The thick blanket of fog has reached alarming levels in different areas of the province of Riau , and in some places visibility is down to less than 200 meters. Ports closed and several flights canceled. Poor visibility prevents the use of aircraft to contain fires. Police arrest 28 people suspected of arson.

Jakarta (AsiaNews / 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.


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