Indonesia — The thick haze from raging forest and peatland fires in the north of the country has taken its toll on the health of West Kalimantan residents.
Upper respiratory tract infections in the province have increased by 25 percent in the past two weeks, according to Muhammad Subuh, head of the provincial health agency.
He said that on average, air quality in the province was categorized as unhealthy, based on the standard air pollution index, or ISUP.
Data for the air pollution index is taken from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Most of the sufferers are children as their immune systems are vulnerable, Subuh said. We have distributed 16,000 face masks to residents through community health centers, nongovernmental organizations and educational institutions.
However, he said the health agency did not have sufficient supplies of masks for all residents.
Subuh advised those residents with masks to wet them before use, which is more effective in blocking the more dangerous larger particles.
They should wet the masks to prevent bigger particles from passing, which are more harmful for the lungs, Subuh said.
He said air quality had reached dangerous levels in some areas of the province.
Some locations in Pontianak and Kubu Raya [near Pontianak] have been categorized as dangerous and very dangerous for the last week, he said, adding that the classification was valid from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.
An air pollution index of 101 to 200 parts per million is considered unhealthy, 201 to 300 dangerous and above 300 very dangerous.
The index shows 369 to some 1,000 parts per million for the past week, Subuh said.
He said that forest and peatland fires had been identified by health authorities as the main cause of the air pollution in the province.
Fires have been the cause of the poor air quality for the past two weeks, he said.
At the same time, theres also extensive deforestation happening in the province. Thus, we do not have sufficient water reservoirs to prevent fires.
He said the province was particularly vulnerable to fires because it contained extensive tracts of dry peatland, which was extremely combustible.
However, Subuh said, the activities of residents also contributed greatly to poor air quality in the province.
Lots of farmers are burning their land, which just makes the air quality even worse, he said.
State-run news agency Antara reported that visibility at the provinces main airport, Supadio, was down to 1,500 meters in the morning and 900 meters in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, in Riau on Thursday, two fire-fighting helicopters on loan from the National Police in Jakarta through the Forestry Ministry were deployed to battle raging peatland and forest fires in Pelalawan district.
The helicopters can carry 500 liters of water each. However, early reports from the field indicated that their efforts did little to extinguish the blazes in the district.