Haze from forest burnings and ground fires blanketed parts of Indonesia’s Riau province on eastern Sumatra Friday, forcing schools to close, state media said Tuesday. The head of Riau’s Rokan Hilir district environment agency, Suma al-Falah, was quoted as saying by the state-run Antara news agency that a number of elementary schools in the area had been shut indefinitely to prevent students suffering from respiratory-related ailments. According to data based on satellite imagery, as many as 159 forest and plantation fire hotspots were detected in Riau. Thick smoke covers most of the province.
Schools will reopen when the haze situation has improved, Suma said, adding that efforts are underway to extinguish the fires.
Health authorities also appealed to residents to stay indoors and limit outdoor activity.
The haze is often blamed on farmers and other landowners who set fire to scrubland and forest to clear land for cultivation. It is an annual phenomenon in Indonesia and worsens during the dry season.
Indonesia banned the practice of open-field burning in 1999 after the widespread fires of 1997 and 1998 caused a choking haze to also blanket parts of Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore. The fires sparked diplomatic rows with Indonesia’s neighbours in the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations