Schools ordered to close in haze choked

Indonesia:Schools ordered to close 
in haze choked Indonesian city

26 September 2002

Schools have been ordered to close in the capital ofIndonesia’s Central Kalimantan province because of persistent choking hazecaused by fires, an official said.

Palangkaraya mayor Salundik Goyong Wednesday orderedthe closure with immediate effect of all schools in the city and surroundingareas, mayoral spokesman Halis Lanca said Thursday.”The closure will be until further notice isissued,” he said.

He said closure was ordered because of the healthhazard caused by the thick haze that has blanketed the area for weeks.Early Thursday the haze, caused by smoke from burningforests and peat, had reduced visibility in the capital to around 10 meters (33feet).

But visibility should slowly improve to just over 100meters later in the day, said Indra Sarwono of the local meteorology office.The provincial government has already given schools inthe province permission to decide whether to close because of the haze,spokesman Harun al-Rasyid told AFP.

“Government employees who have difficultiesworking in the haze conditions are also allowed not to work although all basicpublic services have to remain functioning,” al-Rasyid said.The government last month set up a team of some 370men, including forest rangers, police and soldiers, to try to put out the fires,he said. “But the problems they face are not easy.”

He said most of the fires were ground fires and theywere difficult to extinguish because of the deep peat soil layers prevalent inthe area as well as in large parts of Borneo island.”These peat soil fires can only be extinguished bya large amount of water, such as continuous rains. Rains remain our mainhope,” he said.

Access to forest areas that were on fire was alsodifficult because of the lush vegetation, al Rasyid said. The Palangkaraya meteorology office has forecast rainsonly sometime next month.In Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan provincealso affected by haze, the sky was clear and visibility was over 3,000 meters bymid-morning as rains had fallen over the city the previous evening.

“It is clear now, but the sky may get coveredagain in the afternoon with haze carried by winds from the Ketapang (district)area where rains have not yet fallen,” said Suwardi of the localmeteorology office. Haze has also begun to cover parts of Sumatra island.

In Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, the smokefrom forest fires in the region was forced downwards because of a weatherdepression in the neighbouring province of West Sumatra and a tropical cyclonein the South China Sea in the east, meteorology official Slamet Riyadi said.

“The first two GMT hours, or seven to eight in themorning here, visibility was about 300 to 400 meters only because the smoke hunglow,” Riyadi said. A slight rain helped improve the visibility to 500meters an hour later, he said.

“This condition, due to the depression and thecyclone, is expected to remain until at least tomorrow,” he said. Illegal loggers and farmers are blamed for the fireswhich they light to clear their fields for the next planting season. 

The fires have prompted neighbouring Malaysia, Thailandand Singapore to call for action to control the haze. The burning has caused smoke haze over the regionalmost annually since 1997.

Agence France-Presse


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