Choking haze over Sumatra claims two lives

Choking haze over central Sumatra has claimed two lives as frustrated residents called on the government to speed up on measures to end their prolonged suffering from forest fires.

One man was found dead in Riau on Saturday while another cancer patient passed away in Pelalawan after his condition deteriorated due to the haze.

Saturday's victim was found in the peatlands with burns and Riau police believe he collapsed while riding his motorcycle close to a fire in the Meranti Islands district.

Mr Muhammad Adli, 63, was found face down near his motorcycle, with burns on his hand and on the left side of his waist.

Mr Muhammad might have had difficulty breathing while riding a motorcycle, before he fell onto a burning peatland, Meranti Islands' police chief lieutenant-colonel Zahwani Pandra Arsyad was cited as saying by local news website goriau.com.

His death follows that of the cancer patient last week whose condition deteriorated due to the haze.

The deaths come as nearly 43,000 residents have reported respiratory infections from the haze since January amid a prolonged dry spell.

While ongoing cloud-seeding and water-bombing efforts have had some effect, fires continue to rage with pollutant levels in many cities remaining dangerous.

"This fire has become a routine event," said Mr Musafak, 33, a trader in Siak regency, near Meranti Islands.

"The question is why the authority cannot anticipate and tackle this problem," he told The Straits Times.

Siak regency has not had rain for more than three months, prompting wells to dry up as well, factory worker Mr Nardi, 45, said.

"We are having difficulty getting water to bathe and for other basic purposes. We have to buy water," he said.

The head of Siak's disaster mitigation agency Mr Wan Abdul Rajak told reporters that officials had gone all out to put out fires, and reminded people not to burn land at all.

Schools are shut for two days from Monday and morning flights were delayed in the provincial capital of Pekanbaru as haze shrouded the city, with the pollutant standard index crossing the hazardous level of 300 in recent days.

The forest fires and thick haze over Riau over the past couple of months have caused economic losses totalling at least 10 trillion rupiah (S$1.1 billion), Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said last week.

The state of emergency in the province which ends on March 12, and allows central government officials to take charge of firefighting and disaster relief operations, is also likely to be extended.

- with additional reporting from Rezi Andika Putra in Riau