Thousands of Indonesians down with respiratory illnesses from haze

Students were sent home in Palembang, South Sumatra province on Thursday (Sept 10) as air pollutant index hit hazardous levels, prompting local authorities to order schools to temporarily close.
Students were sent home in Palembang, South Sumatra province on Thursday (Sept 10) as air pollutant index hit hazardous levels, prompting local authorities to order schools to temporarily close.PHOTO: MARZUKI
Students were sent home in Palembang, South Sumatra province on Thursday (Sept 10) as air pollutant index hit hazardous levels, prompting local authorities to order schools to temporarily close.
Students were sent home in Palembang, South Sumatra province on Thursday (Sept 10) as air pollutant index hit hazardous levels, prompting local authorities to order schools to temporarily close.PHOTO: MARZUKI
Students, wearing face masks, walk in front of their school as they prepare to head home due to the unhealthy quality of air in Palembang, on Indonesia's Sumatra island on Sept 10, 2015.
Students, wearing face masks, walk in front of their school as they prepare to head home due to the unhealthy quality of air in Palembang, on Indonesia's Sumatra island on Sept 10, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Tens of thousands of Indonesians have been treated for respiratory illnesses caused by thick smoke from hundreds of forest and land fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said on Friday (Sept 11).

The dry weather is set to persist for several more days, it added.

Across many areas, schools have been closed and flights delayed.

Nearly 15,000 residents in Riau province in Sumatra, near Singapore, suffered from upper respiratory infections, 22,855 residents in South Sumatra and about 40,000 in South Kalimantan, according to the BNPB statement.

"The haze has produced wide-ranging impacts, in terms of health, comfort as well as security. The upper respiratory infection cases are not to be taken lightly," said the newly appointed head of BNPB, Mr Willem Rampangilei.

Nearly all five provinces in Kalimantan were shrouded by smoke, said Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, BNPB's spokesman.

Kalimantan had 1,312 hotspots, of which 508 were in the worst-affected West Kalimantan province, as at 5am Jakarta time on Friday, according to satellite imagery.

Kalimantan was suffering its worst haze so far this year, in terms of the size of the areas shrouded by haze.

Sumatra recorded 575 hot spots, and 78 per cent of those were in South Sumatra province.

BNPB will send in another helicopter to South Sumatra soon to beef up water-bombing operations, to add to the several that are operating now.

Visibility in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, was 500m. In Pelalawan, also in Riau, it was 200m.

The air pollutant index in the provinces affected by thick haze -- which also include Jambi province, Central Kalimantan province and South Kalimantan province -- was mostly between the unhealthy and hazardous levels.

wahyudis@sph.com.sg