Indonesia — Thousands of people are developing respiratory diseases in Indonesia every week due to smog caused by slash and burn forest fires, the health chief of Jambi province said Monday.
Andi Pada, head of the Jambi Provincial Health Office, said up to 7,000 people in Jambi, eastern Sumatra, are contracting breathing problems every week.
“6,000 to 7,000 people are reported to have contracted respiratory infections every week and this figure continues to rise,” Pada told Tribun Jambi newspaper.
A thick haze settled on the province over the weekend, with the Bureau of Meteorology and Geophysics measuring air quality at unhealthy levels.
Schools have been ordered to close by Governor Hasan Basri Agus and locals have been warned not to venture outdoors without wearing a mask to protect against upper respiratory tract infections.
Flights from Jambi Sultan Thaha Airport have been cancelled for Monday and Tuesday.
Airport chief Dorma Manalu told The Anadolu Agency: “This morning visibility was about 2,000 feet but the airlines havent dared to land here.”
Most of Sumatras forest fires are said to be deliberately lit to clear land for plantations for products such as palm oil and paper. They have contributed to Indonesias status as the world’s third largest greenhouse gas polluter.
The mix of burning vegetation and peat sends up plumes of brown smoke that settles across south east Asia, reaching as far as Laos and choking cities like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Earlier this year more than 50,000 Sumatrans required treatment for asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses.
Fires in June last year caused the regions worst pollution crisis in a decade.
The fires have been a diplomatic embarrassment for Indonesia, with neighbors insisting the country take action. Last month the Indonesian parliament ratified a regional agreement to strengthen policy on forest fires and haze.
A long dry season this year has exacerbated the problem as smoke from burning vegetation in Riau province, where most of the fires occur, blankets neighboring provinces, including Jambi, Batam and Medan.