Indonesia sends three warships to help with haze: Official

Residents living by the Kahayan riverbanks, go about their daily routines amid the haze, in Palangkaraya city, in Central Kalimantan, on Oct 25, 2015.
Residents living by the Kahayan riverbanks, go about their daily routines amid the haze, in Palangkaraya city, in Central Kalimantan, on Oct 25, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (AFP) - Indonesia has deployed three warships, with more on standby, to deliver face masks, tents and medical supplies to thousands of people affected by acrid haze from forest fires, an official said Monday (Oct 26).

For nearly two months, thousands of fires caused by slash-and-burn farming in Indonesia have choked vast expanses of Southeast Asia, forcing schools to close and scores of flights and some international events to be cancelled.

Three warships have arrived in Kalimantan - Indonesia's half of Borneo and one of the worst affected regions - bringing much needed medical staff, shelters, cooking stoves and protective masks.

Indonesian military spokesman Tatang Sulaiman said the plan was to build temporary shelters with air purifiers and beds away from haze-plagued cities, but the ships could also act as evacuation centres if needed.

"Our warships are ready to evacuate residents, whether to these temporary shelters or even on board. We are prepared for that," he told AFP.

"Those who will be evacuated first will be children and those suffering from chronic respiratory illnesses." Three more ships are stocked and ready to leave for either Kalimantan or South Sumatra, while another five could be pressed into service later if needed, he added.

The government has deployed around 30 aircraft to fight the fires and for cloud seeding, with 22,000 troops on the ground to combat the blazes, which are among the worst in decades.

Indonesia's disaster agency say the fires from slash-and-burn farming in Kalimantan and neighbouring Sumatra have killed 10 people so far, some of whom died while fighting the blazes and others from the pollution.

The agency estimated at least half a million people have suffered from respiratory illness since the fires started in July and 43 million people have been affected in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.