Jakarta declares emergency in Riau over haze
JAKARTA has declared a haze emergency in Sumatra's Riau province yesterday, as pollution from raging forest fires hit highly hazardous levels, prompting intensification of water bombing on the hot spots by helicopters.
Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings reached 984 yesterday in Pekanbaru, capital of Riau, local news portal Detik quoted National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho as saying.
Any PSI reading above 300 is considered "hazardous".
"This morning, I discussed with (acting) Riau Governor and the Regional Leaders Consultative Forum. Today, haze emergency has been declared in Riau," Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told Detik yesterday.
According to Dr Siti Nurbaya, Riau's acting governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman has set up health command posts at several locations.
Mr Arsyadjuliandi called on Riau residents to pray for rain yesterday.
"We have mobilised all our strengths to put out the fires relentlessly. But haze from neighbouring provinces still blankets us," he said.
Satellites yesterday detected 1,143 hot spots in Sumatra, with 724 in South Sumatra province, 234 in Jambi province and 78 in Riau.
In Kalimantan, there were 266 hot spots.
Some Pekanbaru residents have started sending family members, especially pregnant women and babies, to neighbouring provinces to avoid the haze, reported Antara news agency.
"I choose to leave rather than stay in Pekanbaru. This is for my children's health. I just gave birth. My son is just three days old," said Rika Indah Satiyanti, 29, yesterday.
Haze-belching fires are an annual problem during the dry season in Indonesia, where vast tracts of land are cleared using illegal slash-and-burn methods to make way for plantations.
The blazes intensified in the past fortnight, sending haze over Sumatra and Borneo that forced people to wear face masks and prompted the cancellation of flights and school closures.
South Sumatra has reported 22,585 cases of acute respiratory tract infections since Friday.
According to Mr Sutopo, PSI reading reached 550 in Palembang, capital of South Sumatra, and 307 in Pontianak, capital of West Kalimantan.
Fourteen helicopters were dumping water yesterday on blazes in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and "cloud-seeding" the regions, which involves using chemicals to induce rain, Agence France-Presse quoted BNPB chief Willem Rampangilei as saying.
If necessary, BNPB would send in additional helicopters to help water-bomb fires, he added.
Mr Sutopo said the police were investigating 26 companies and scores of people over the illegal blazes.