Haze: Indonesia may declare national emergency

The Kahayan bridge is seen through a thick yellow haze in Palangkaraya, a city located in Indonesia's central Kalimantan. PHOTO: AFP

Indonesia may officially declare the haze crisis, which has left parts of South-east Asia shrouded in thick smoke since August, a national emergency, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said.

He said yesterday that the government is considering doing this, but President Joko Widodo will make the decision after his United States trip.

The worsening haze situation has prompted Mr Joko to cut short by a day his first official visit to the US, so that he can fly straight to Indonesia's worst-hit regions.

Mr Kalla's comments on plans to declare a national emergency come after several local leaders and MPs urged the government to do so.

MP Muhammad Romahurmuziy, who was one of them, told The Straits Times last night that Indonesia must declare the haze a national emergency, given the scale of the problem. "Even with international assistance, we have not managed to contain it," he said.

A key reason for declaring a national emergency is so that the central government can deploy national assets to deal with the crisis.

Indonesia has already mobilised tens of thousands of troops, policemen and emergency assets to try to put out thousands of forest and peatland fires.

The government has also made preparations for a mass evacuation led by navy ships, which have been deployed to receive evacuees from Kalimantan and Sumatra.

An aide to Mr Kalla, Mr Wijayanto Samirin, told The Straits Times that declaring a national emergency would enable the government to speed up procurement processes for firefighting equipment needed to combat the forest fires.

But there are also other concerns. For one thing, businesses could use the government action to declare "force majeure" on deals in sectors ranging from palm oil to banking.

"Some businesses may also use the status to raise contract prices, and this is why we are analysing the issue very thoroughly," added Mr Wijayanto.

The government had been reluctant to call the haze problem a national crisis because it has not affected the entire country, according to some officials.

Indonesia's national weather agency, however, reported that three-quarters of the country had since been affected by the haze, albeit in varying degrees.

The national capital, Jakarta, has been blanketed by a light haze over the past two days, although the authorities maintained that air quality was still "normal".

•Additional reporting by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline Haze: Indonesia may declare national emergency. Subscribe