10/24/2015, 00.00
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Haze emergency pushes Jakarta to prepare mass evacuations

by Mathias Hariyadi
No date has been set yet, but children and seniors will be the first to go in the most affected provinces. In some areas, pollution is ten times the accepted level.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesia remains under a haze emergency. The situation is such that the authorities are planning mass evacuations.

For weeks, haze has covered much of the country, with serious impact on public health with smog-belching fires often set by illegal growers.

Children and seniors will be the first to move out of the affected provinces if and when the authorities give the order to the largest anti-haze operation in the country’s history. So far though, there have been few tangible results.

Fires continue to rage across six Indonesian provinces, in Sumatra and Borneo. Palagkaraya, in the central province of Borneo, is one of the worst affected areas.

Here, visibility ranges from 5 to 50 metres with people forced indoors by Total Particulate Matter (TPM) at 3,400 µg/ m3. The limit is 350 µg/Ancrem3. Local schools have been closed until 31 October.

"This is the highest and most dangerous level ever registered in Palagkaraya,” said a forecaster with the Meteorology Climatology and Geophysics Council* in central Borneo.

Because of the dense smoke caused by the fire, local travel has been impaired. The haze had made driving dangerous, and flights have been delayed or cancelled across the country.

According to Indonesia’s Health Ministry, at least 425,700 people have suffered respiratory problems because of the smoke.

Today, President Joko Widodo, Vice President Jusuf Kalla and several ministers held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation. Coordinating Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan said the government would carry out evacuations in targeted areas.

Residents will be moved to facilities with air purifiers. “We have those facilities,” Panjaitan said, “but we still have to set them up."

A second plan would see hundreds of thousands of people move to cities less affected by the haze. "For example, Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan is less affected by the pollution,” Panjaitan said. “We could ask people to move there."

If either plans fails, one proposal would see Indonesian Naval ships take residents out at sea until the emergency is over. However, few details are forthcoming.

"I will go there to see how the situation develops,” Panjaitan said. “This way I can evaluate it. We have made public our plans and we are ready to evacuate under military supervision.”

* Badan Meteorologi, Klimatologi, dan Geofisika (BMKG)

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