Indonesia:Haze reaches hazardous levels in CentralKalimantan
24 September 2002
Chokinghaze from forest fires and cropland burning has reached health‑hazardlevels in Indonesia’s province of Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo,forcing some 3,000 people to seek medical assistance in recent weeks, officialssaid Tuesday.
Localhealth officials in the province said the smoke had reached “very dangerouslevels”, forcing schools to close and causing an influx of thousands ofpatients suffering respiratory problems at hospitals and clinics.
“Wehave warned the people to stay inside their homes with all windows and doorsshut,” said M. Leimena, head of the health office of Palangkaraya, theprovincial capital. “Thedanger of air pollution from the choking haze has already five times theordinary situation. This is extraordinary,” Leimena told DeutschePresse-Agentur dpa in a telephone interview.
Hazehas been plaguing Palangkaraya for the past week, and is likely to continueuntil the rainy season begins, said Hidayat, a meteorology official in theprovincial capital. Hidayat,who like many Indonesians goes by one name, expressed fear the choking hazewould continue to blanket the province until late October or earlyNovember, when the rains are expected.
Forestryofficials complained of a lack of personnel to fight the fires, which areravaging several forest areas in the province. They also lack equipment andfunds to stop the uncontrolled blazes that are sending a clouds of smog as faras Malaysia and Singapore. “We’vehad difficulty seeing the sun during the past few days, in particular before mid‑day,”said a resident of Palangkaraya, 875 kilometres northeast of Jakarta.
Dataissued by the local health office showed that almost 3,000 people, mostlychildren and elderly, have visited various clinics in the area diagnosed withrespiratory and other haze‑related problems during the past two months. Thickhaze in Central Kalimantan has also stopped all commercial airplanes serving theprovince’s Cilik Riwut airport for more than three weeks, while motorists mustswitch their headlights on during the day to avoid accidents.
“Visibilityis strictly limited to less than 50 metres,” said Guntur Siregar, anairport official. Thepoor visibility has even forced river transportation to halt operations inrecent weeks. Theprovince’s governor last week ordered schools and public offices to temporaryshut down due to the polluted air from the choking haze. Indonesiabanned the practice of open field burning in 1999 after widespread fires sentthick haze over Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore that year. The firessparked diplomatic rows with Indonesia’s neighbours.
However,enforcement of the law in Indonesia is often lax as corrupt officials turn ablind eye. The annual haze phenomenon is at its worst during the dry seasonwhich runs from July to October. ASEANagreed in June to combat air pollution from fires by strengthening theirfirefighting forces, enforcing legislation to control open burning, andestablishing early warning systems to prevent cross-border pollution.