Dozens hospitalised in Indonesia as haze spreads

An Acehnese boy undergoing treatment for lung infection from thick smoke due to peat forest fires in Meulaboh last Sunday. Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency has warned of an escalating threat of forest fires with the dry season expected to peak
An Acehnese boy undergoing treatment for lung infection from thick smoke due to peat forest fires in Meulaboh last Sunday. Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency has warned of an escalating threat of forest fires with the dry season expected to peak in the coming months.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MEULABOH (Aceh) • Children lie in hospital in Aceh province, Indonesia, as thick smoke caused by forest fires forces dozens of people to be treated for lung infection.

Although some children were still able to go to school in Meulaboh yesterday wearing masks, several schools have suspended classes so students could stay at home.

In the past week, about 35 hot spots - concentrations of fires - have destroyed 70ha of forest and other parcels of land in Aceh, the national disaster agency said.

"The land fires have been caused by people who clear their land by the traditional slash-and-burn method, so the fire spreads," agency spokesman Sutopo Purno Nugroho said.

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People are advised to monitor their land, and not to slash and burn, especially since the current dry season makes it easy for forest fires to escalate, Mr Nugroho added.

The authorities are trying to put out the blazes and have warned of an escalating threat of forest fires with the dry season expected to continue for several months.

The haze is an annual problem in Indonesia caused by fires set in forests and on carbon-rich peatland to clear land for oil palm and pulpwood plantations.

The blazes occur mainly on Indonesia's Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo, with monsoon winds typically blowing the haze over nearby Singapore and Malaysia.

There are about 180 hot spots in Indonesia over about six provinces now, but the number is significantly lower than in 2015 when haze cloaked large parts of the region, causing huge numbers of people to fall ill and sending diplomatic tensions soaring.

Last year, researchers from Harvard and Columbia universities in the United States estimated that the 2015 smog outbreak may have caused over 100,000 premature deaths.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2017, with the headline 'Dozens hospitalised in Indonesia as haze spreads'. Print Edition | Subscribe