09/15/2015, 00.00
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Haze and respiratory problems from Indonesia’s wildfire emergency closes schools

Malaysia and Singapore also affected by the phenomenon: Kuala Lumpur closes schools. In the city-state outdoor activities are not recommended. Health risks for tens of thousands of people. So far governments attempts to contain fires futile. Major suspects remain palm oil companies.

Jakarta (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Indonesia’s wildfire emergency, is now causing severe respiratory problems and smoke haze even in neighboring countries; a thick blanket of smoke from the fires set by farmers to clear fields, is covering entire areas of the archipelago, causing serious damage to the health of citizens. Meanwhile in Malaysia, the authorities have ordered the temporary closure of schools in Kuala Lumpur and surrounding areas. There are also problems in Singapore, with the public invited to "avoid outdoor activities."

Environmentalists and activists point the finger at companies active in the production of palm oil, in particular the illegal growers as being behind the fires.  It is not the first time that a similar emergency has affected the country. Last year, according to data from the Department of Health of Pkanbaru, 30 thousand people suffered from severe respiratory problems due to smoke from wildfires.

In the past the Indonesian Government had repeatedly promised to stop illegal fires; Jakarta sent hundreds of soldiers to Riau Province (Sumatra island, the epicenter of the fires) to try to extinguish the flames. A state of emergency remains in effect in the area, with the smoke stagnating for weeks and a level of pollution beyond the danger threshold.

Moreover during the dry season smog originated from fires is a recurring problem, exacerbated by farmers trying to illegally increase acreage by starting fires. Tens of thousands of people suffer from severe respiratory problems in Borneo and Sumatra; and there are serious repercussions on air traffic, with flights canceled or delayed due to poor visibility.

Malaysian authorities have started the free distribution of anti-gas masks. The air force is on high alert given the likely worsening visibility in the coming hours. Despite the joint activities promoted by the governments of the region, so far no action has been effective in trying to contain the fires and ensure a lasting and effective solution to the problem.

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