Indonesia: Riau air pollution reaches dangerous level

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 16;

Riau has grappled with severe air pollution for the past week as land and forest fires continue to spread. In the Mandau and Pinggir districts in Bengkalis regency, air pollution has already reached dangerous levels.

Based on Riau Land and Forest Fires Emergency Task Force data, the air pollution standard index (ISPU) in Duri Camp, Mandau district, stood at 361 PSI, a dangerous level, on Monday. Three days before, the air pollution level in Duri even reached 460 PSI. Schools in Bengkalis gave their students a two-day vacation due to the worsening haze.

The air quality is considered good if the ISPU is below 50 PSI, moderate if 101-199 and unhealthy if 101-199. Meanwhile, air with an ISPU level of 200-299 PSI is considered very unhealthy and dangerous if it reaches beyond 300 PSI.

In Pekanbaru, haze has led to severe air pollution, in which the ISPU decreased to an unhealthy level of 162 PSI on Monday. The air quality in Dumai, Kampar and Rokan Hilir was also unhealthy, with ISPU readings of 166, 144 and 184 PSI, respectively.

On Sunday, the air pollution in Dumai reached a dangerous level, with the ISPU standing at 369 PSI. Despite the severe air pollution, schools in Dumai have not yet decided to close.

“We are still waiting for recommendations from the Dumai environment and health agencies. A temporary school closure can be applied only through a decree from the Dumai mayor,” the Dumai Education Agency’s secondary education head Misdiono said. (ebf)

Hundreds of Bengkalis residents affected by respiratory infections
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 16;

Smoke from land fires blanketing Bengkalis, Riau, for the past week has led to hundreds of residents suffering from acute respiratory infections (ISPA). Local authorities have distributed masks to prevent the situation from worsening further.

The Riau Health Agency’s health crisis control unit head, Jon Kenedy, said that based on reports from related institutions in Bengkalis, 149 residents were suffering from haze-related illnesses, including 132 ISPA patients. Four residents had asthma relapses, while one person was suffering from an eye irritation and the remaining 12 people had pneumonia, he added.

“As of today, only the Bengkalis Health Agency has sent data on residents affected by haze-related health problems although other areas have also been heavily exposed to smoke from land and forest fires,” Jon said during an evaluation meeting at the Riau Land and Forest Fire Emergency Task Force post at Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base in Pekanbaru on Sunday.

To prevent the number of ISPA increasing, Jon said, the Riau Health Agency had distributed 10,000 masks to haze-affected areas in Bengkalis. “Health campaigns to minimize the dangerous impacts of haze continue to be conducted,” he said.

“We are also routinely carrying out health check-ups on land and forest fire extinguishing personnel because they are really prone to smoke-related illnesses,” he added.

Based on Riau Health Agency data, the number of patients with haze-related illnesses in Riau reached 100,234 in 2015, 84,203 of whom suffered from ISPA, followed by patients with skin irritations (6,067), eye irritations (4,771), asthma (3,872) and 1,321 people with pneumonia. (ebf)

Worsening haze leads to school closures in Riau
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 16;

Schools in Bengkalis, Riau, were closed on Monday as the level of air pollution caused by land fires in the regency reached its highest level in the past week.

Besides smoke, ash carried by winds across the area caused eye irritation, reducing visibility to around 500 meters. Deeming conditions dangerous to health, the Bengkalis Education Agency decided to give a two-day holiday to all students, starting from kindergarten to senior high school.

“Actually, schools did open today and students attended classes this morning. Suddenly, we received an instruction from the Bengkalis Education Agency to send them home because the haze was getting thicker,” state senior high school SMAN 7 Mandau principal Masrida said.

Masrida said the school closure was temporary and would be evaluated in two days. “If the weather improves and haze lessens, school will resume on Wednesday. If not, the closure will be extended to avoid unnecessary health impacts on our students.”

Bengkalis Education Agency acting chairman Heri Indra Putera said it had been decided to close schools after Bengkalis Regent Amril Mukminin instructed authorities in areas heavily affected by haze to close schools until conditions improved.

“It doesn’t mean that students aren’t studying during their holiday. They still have school assignments.”

Based on Riau Land and Forest Fire Emergency Task Force data, the air pollution standard index (ISPU) in Duri Camp, Mandau district, stood at 364 PSI, or reaching a danger level, on Monday. (ebf)

Students stay at home as haze thickens
Rizal Harahap and Jon Afrizal The Jakarta Post 30 Aug 16;

As haze caused by forest and land fires thickens in Riau, a local administration has given holidays to school students.

According to the Riau forest fire emergency unit, the air pollution standard index (ISPU) reached 364 as of Monday morning, far above the 200 level that is already considered “very unhealthy”.

In the province capital, Pekanbaru, haze has deteriorated air quality to 162. In other cities such as Kampar, Dumai and Rokan Hilir, the air quality reached 144, 166 and 184, respectively, reducing vision to only 500 meters.

“Actually all students attended class this morning, but then there was an instruction from the Bengkalis Education Agency urging us all to go home,” the principal of Mandau state high school SMAN 7, Masrida, in Bengkalis regency, Riau, told reporters on Monday.

Masrida said the decision was made for the time being and would be evaluated in the next few days.

“If the weather gets better and the haze starts to disappear, we will restart our classes next Wednesday. Otherwise, we may prolong the closure to avoid health problems.”

Bengkalis Education Agency acting head Heri Indra Putra said the decision was taken following instruction given by Regent Amril Mukminin.

“[School] closures will vary in each area, depending on the haze,” Heri said, adding that teachers would still require students to do homework.

In Dumai, the level of air quality hit 369 on Sunday, a highly dangerous level. However, related authorities had yet to issue a circular to free students from school.

“We are still waiting for instruction from the Dumai Environment and Forestry Ministry office,” Dumai Education Agency spokesperson Misdiono said.

Riau Education Agency head Kamsol urged affected areas to take quick action in preventing illness from inhaling the dangerous haze.

“The provincial government cannot fully monitor air pollution in every area,” he said, demanding better coordination between the regions.

The week-long haze covering Bengkalis has sparked fear as more than a hundred residents have begun suffering acute respiratory infections (ARIs).

To prevent escalating numbers of people suffering respiratory problems, the Riau Health Agency has distributed 10,000 face masks to affected areas. “We will also intensify our campaign [to inform people] of the dangers of the haze,” Jon said.

He said that according to reports from related institutions in Bengkalis, 149 people had been affected by haze-related health problems, with 132 of them suffering ARIs.

He added that four people were suffering asthma, one person an eye irritation, while 12 other people were diagnosed with pneumonia.

According to data published by the Riau Health Agency last year, 100,234 people suffered from the haze, with 84,203 of them diagnosed with ARIs, 1,321 suffered pneumonia and 3,872 contracted asthma. Those who suffered eye and skin irritations numbered 4,771 and 6,067, respectively.

Meanwhile, according to the Batanghari Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) in Jambi, there were eight hotspots found in the region since January, with blazing fires to 12.8 hectares of forest.

National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho claimed on Monday that this year’s haze would not be worse than last year when 32,734 hotspots were recorded, saying that in the same period this year, the agency detected only 12,884 hotspots. (fac)

Haze unlikely to blanket Batam: BMKG
Fadli The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 16;

The country’s meteorology agency predicts that hot spots in Riau and Kalimantan causing haze will not affect Batam because of the wind direction.

Last year, haze blanketed Batam in Riau Islands. Hang Nadim International Airport, for example, lost Rp 1.5 billion (US$113,000) because of flight disruptions caused by the haze.

The head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) station in Batam, Philips Mustamu, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday that haze from hot spots in Riau and Kalimantan was unlikely to reach Batam. BMKG data showed that wind in Riau Islands province, a different province from Riau, came from the southeast and south.

“Observation of the wind direction in Riau Islands shows it is unlikely the haze will reach Batam,” Philips said.

The BMKG said, however, that haze from hot spots in Riau had blanketed Singapore, which is 20 kilometers north of Batam. The agency said Singapore was closer to the source of haze than Batam.

Hang Nadim airport’s general manager said traffic at the airport remained normal.

Haze is reported to have disrupted flights in Dumai, Riau province, and has started to affect residents in Pontianak, West Kalimantan. (evi)

Haze Makes Unwanted Return in Kalimantan, Sumatra, Singapore and Malaysia
Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 29 Aug 16;

Jakarta. Visibility levels in Sumatra and Kalimantan have decreased sharply as haze blanketed various parts of the islands and neighboring Singapore and Malaysia over the weekend.

In South Kalimantan, the cities of Banjarmasin and Martapura were blanketed by haze caused by forest fires.

According to state news agency Antara, visibility levels in Martapura stood at 200 meters, but it was even lower in the area closer to Banjarmasin.

"The haze was very thick and visibility was very limited as it was not even 10 meters," Martapura resident Asyam said on Monday (29/08).

Forest fires in Riau spread smoke across a large part of Sumatra, with light haze spotted in Pekanbaru, Dumai, Rokan Hilir and Bengkalis.

"The smoke in Bengkalis is thick enough that citizens are beginning to fall ill," said Jon Kenedy of the Riau Health Agency.

In Dumai, pollution levels were described as "hazardous" with an air pollution index of 369, resulting in a Pelita Air flight having to be diverted to Pekanbaru's Sultan Sharif Kasim II International Airport.

"The Pelita Air flight had to be diverted to Pekanbaru as it was unable to land in Dumai due to the smoke," Pekanbaru airport duty manager Bambang said on Sunday.

On Monday, the northern Malaysian town of Tanjung Malim in Perak recorded an unhealthy air pollution index of 119, with indices in several areas in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya nearing unhealthy levels, local media outlet Malay Mail Online reported.

According to Bloomberg, Singapore's air pollution index stood at "very unhealthy levels" on Friday, with the Singaporean government advising its citizens to reduce prolonged outdoor activities.

Meanwhile, the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said this year's peatland and forest fire handling is much better compared to last year, with a 61 percent decrease to 12,884 compared to last year.

"We must keep a close eye and look out for potential fires until September in the provinces close to the equator, such as Riau, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan," BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

Sutopo added that forest fire handling has improved this year thanks to the collaborative efforts of the central and regional governments and corporations to extinguishing the fires. Hotspots detected on Monday stood at 138 points, with 60 percent of them in the Riau region.

Fires were also reported in North Sumatera's Samosir district, where it destroyed 2,400 hectares of forest and agricultural land. Sutopo said the Samosir district head did not declare an emergency despite the blaze continuing to spread.

"This area burnt between June and Aug. 20, but last Saturday it flamed up again," Sutopo said. "The Samosir Disaster Management Agency has asked the Samosir district head to declare a state an emergency."

He added that the fires are occurring in a newly expanded area of the district.

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