Sumatra Fires Create Breathing Problems

Sumatra Fires Create Breathing Problems

01 October 2012

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Indonesia– Almost 2,000 people in Bengkulu and Jambi are suffering from breathing problems after both provinces experienced a series of forest fires for more than a month, officials said over the weekend.

Bengkulu city health agency chief Mixon Syahbudin said the number of people suffering from respiratory ailments, known as ISPA, continues to rise because of a fire-induced smoky haze that has settled into the western part of Sumatra.

“If rain does not fall in Bengkulu in October, the number of people with ISPA in the area will rise,” Mixon said. “This is happening because the air quality in Bengkulu is getting worse and the haze is getting thicker.”

Mixon said his office has treated more than 400 people with respiratory problems. Sixty percent of those affected are children while the remainder are elderly people.

“We hope the rain will come soon so that the haze covering this area will diminish and the air quality will return to normal,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Jambi, the local health agency has recorded more than 1,400 people with ISPA in the capital alone since the start of September. At the provincial level, the figure has exceeded 3,000 people.

“The air pollution caused by the haze during the drought has caused many to suffer ISPA,” said Jambi city health agency chief Polisman Sitanggang. The people affected by ISPA are mostly children and the elderly.”

Polisman added that his office distributing 10,000 masks over the last few days as the forest fires continue to spread and haze thickens.

The Ministry of Forestry recently said that it counted 24,663 hot spots — areas of high temperature indicating forest or brush fires — this year, with Sumatra and Kalimantan having the most, because of drought and land clearing by fire.

The forest fires have also forced several airlines to cut down the number of flights to Jambi because of poor visibility.

“The flight schedule from Jambi to Jakarta, and Jakarta to Jambi has been reduced,” said Rudi Iriandi, marketing manager at the Jambi office of flag carrier Garuda Indonesia. “We have canceled all of our morning flights because Sultan Thaha Syaifuddin airport in Jambi cannot operate because of the haze.

“We have been canceling flights dozens of times over the last three weeks. The cancellations have cost the company a lot of money.”

Visibility early in the morning at the airport has been limited to 500 meters, preventing planes from landing. Planes have only been able to land and take off after 8:30 a.m., when the haze partially clears.

Separately, Samsul Bandri, chief of the Fatmawati Airport in Bengkulu, said the haze in the province had not forced any flight cancelations. He added that visibility in that area is still acceptable to most pilots. But Samsul warned that the haze is thickening and could force flights to be canceled if the fires continue.




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