Indonesia: Residents abandon homes in search of fresh air

Rizal Harahap, Apriadi Gunawan and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 16 Sep 15;

After spending weeks battling with the impact of the thick haze that has blanketed their home city, many Pekanbaru residents have finally decided to give up, leaving the Riau provincial capital in a desperate search for a healthier environment.

Pekanbaru resident Zahara Hanafi, 37, recently left her house at the Green Tiara residential complex for Medan, North Sumatra, to avoid the haze.

“I have been living in Pekanbaru for years and have experienced haze disasters from time to time. I, however, feel that this year’s haze is the most severe and longest of all,” the mother of three told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

“That’s why I finally decided to evacuate my family to my sister’s house in Medan.”

Zahara said she would return to Pekanbaru only when the haze had completely disappeared from the city.

Riau, the country’s top oil-producing region, along with Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan, are the provinces hardest hit by the air pollution originating from fires in peatland and plantation areas.

Apart from creating health problems and disrupting the operation of local airports, the fires have also caused air quality in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia to deteriorate to alarming levels.

On Monday, acting Riau governor Arsyadjuliandi “Andi” Rachman even issued a gubernatorial decree declaring an emergency status regarding air pollution in the province.

In response to public pressure, the Riau provincial administration announced on Tuesday the opening of Pekanbaru’s Tribuana Sports Hall as a temporary evacuation center for locals affected by the haze.

Separately, Pekanbaru Mayor Firdaus admitted that the city was no longer livable as the pollutant standard index (PSI) in the city had surpassed 300, which indicates a “dangerous” level, over the past few days.

Firdaus acknowledged that many Pekanbaru residents had moved their families to other cities if they had the financial ability to do so.

“Haze does not only fill the air but also peoples’ houses. Pekanbaru should have been emptied, but the problem is where these people should go when many [neighboring] regions are also hazy,” Firdaus said.

To curb the impacts of the haze on residents’ health, the city administration, according to Firdaus, has allowed pregnant civil servants and those prone to haze-related diseases to take time off until the air quality in the city returns to normal.

“We are also hoping private companies in Pekanbaru will show similar lenience for their pregnant employees, as the haze will affect fetal brain development,” he said.

The Riau Health Agency announced on Monday that more than 25,000 people in the province’s 12 regions had suffered from haze-related diseases recently, with the majority related to acute respiratory infections (ISPA).

In Jambi municipality, the local health agency reported that the intensifying haze in the city had increased the number of ISPA patients by almost 10 times, from 2,849 patients in August to 20,741 patients during the first two weeks of September.

Last week, a 2-year-old infant and a 15-year-old girl from the city died after experiencing acute respiratory problems.

Meanwhile in Batam, Riau Islands, the management of Hang Nadim International Airport reported that 38 flights from and to the airport had been canceled on Tuesday on haze-related safety concerns.

“Airline companies have been forced to cancel their flights as [visibility] at destination airports is not favorable,” the airport’s general affairs head, Suwarso, told Antara news agency.

Police investigate perpetrators involved in land, forest fires
Antara 16 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian police are committed to thoroughly investigating all those companies which burned the forests, causing the haze that has affected various regions in the country.

"The police are committed to investigating the perpetrators. This investigation will not be partial, rather it will be a thorough one," the director of special crimes at the National Polices Crime Investigation Department, Brigadier General Yazid Fanani, said at the National Police Headquarters here on Wednesday.

He said he hoped that the investigation would result in the ministries or the concerned state institutions either imposing administrative sanctions against companies found guilty or revoking their permits.

He explained that as of now, sanctions could only be imposed after obtaining a court ruling. "An administrative sanction, in this case the revocation of permit, may only happen after a court ruling."

He said the police are now handling 131 cases of alleged burning of forest and land in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Of the total, 28 are still under preliminary probe, 79 under investigation while 24 cases have been confirmed.

The cases are related to fires in Riau (Sumatra), South Sumatra, Jambi (Sumatra) and West and South Kalimantan.

He said 126 people have been named as suspects in connection with the cases, while a company called PT Bumi Mekar Hijau has also been named as a suspect in the case of a fire in South Sumatra.

Two other companies -- PT Tempirai Palm Resources and PT Waimusi Agro Indah -- which operate in South Sumatra, are under investigation.

The chief of the West Kalimantan Regional Police Command, Brigadier General Arief Sulistyanto, personally led efforts to extinguish fires that ravaged a hundred hectares of rubber plantations belonging to farmers in the village of Teluk Empening in the district of Kubu Raya on Wednesday.

"We have deployed 100 personnel of the Mobile Brigade to help people put out fires that have raging for the past two days," the chief of the Forest and Land Fire Extinguishing Task Force, Senior Commissioner Suhadi SW, said.

He said along with the Brimob personnel, firefighters from the Manggala Agni group and community members were also participating in the efforts.

"Initially it was alleged that the fires were caused by people burning forests to turn these into agricultural land," he said.

He said Bumi Perkasa Gemilang also helped with heavy equipment to dig canals to bring in water for fighting the fires.

Brigadier General Arief Sulistyanto said he had deployed 1,000 Brimob personnel to fight the fires spreading in several districts in the province.

Due to the raging fires, a number of schools in the province have been closed.(*)

Police name 126 people as suspects in land fire cases
Antara 15 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The National Police of Indonesia has named 126 people as suspects in cases of land fires in Sumatera and Kalimantan.

"Each one of them is a suspect," the spokesperson of the National Police, Brigadier General Agus Rianto, said here on Tuesday.

Rianto explained that further investigation is on to determine their motives and whether they were hired to burn these lands or set fire to their own land.

The National Police, Rianto added, is processing 131 cases of land and forest fires that occurred in Riau, South Sumatera, Jambi, West Kalimantan, and South Kalimantan.

Of these, 28 cases are in the pre-investigation phase while in 79 cases, the investigation is currently underway. Twenty-four cases are already in the P21 dossier stage.

Rianto said the National Police Headquarters would despatch some investigators from the regional police to the affected areas in order to assist the investigation process.

"We will send 70 investigators to some regions and will coordinate their work with the regional police department and the National Polices Criminal Agency," he noted.(*)

Indonesia dispatches four aircraft from Palembang to fight forest fires
Indonesia deployed on Wednesday four more aircraft, each carrying 3,000 litres of water mixed with a flame retardant chemical, to fight forest fires.
Sujadi Siswo, Channel NewsAsia 16 Sep 15;

PALEMBANG, Indonesia: Indonesia dispatched Wednesday (Sep 16) four aircraft from Palembang in south Sumatra to extinguish forest fires causing haze in parts of Southeast Asia.

The aircraft include three helicopters for water-bombing and an Air Tractor imported from Australia last week, a fire-fighting plane that can carry up to 3,000 litres of water. One more Air Tractor was expected to arrive later on Wednesday.

Due to poor visibility of less than 500 metres, the aircraft did not leave a Palembang airbase until 10am local time.

For the first time in Indonesia, the water was mixed with a fire retardant, a chemical substance used to reduce flammability and delay combustion.

Besides the four aircraft, a military plane is also on standby at the airbase. Once activated, it will be used for cloud-seeding.


Although the number of hotspots has declined in parts of the country, the situation in Kalimantan continues to worsen.

A state of emergency has been declared in Central Kalimantan provinces after the air quality index hit "dangerous" levels, rising to as high as 984 PSI, officials said, and hazy conditions are expected to persist in Southeast Asia for the next three days at least.

So far, nearly 3,000 military and police personnel have been deployed to fight the fires.

Indonesia vowed to clamp down on those responsible for the forest fires, saying any company found to have cause the haze will have its license revoked and its permits frozen.

According to police, 127 individuals have been arrested in connection with the forest fires. Ten of them have links with overseas companies.


In Malaysia, about 2,000 schools remained closed until further notice, after the Air Pollutant Index hit 190 Tuesday night.

The closed schools were located in the worst hit areas of Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Malacca and Negri Sembilan.

Authorities were also closely monitoring the states of Perak, Pahang and Terengganu, where the air quality hovered in the unhealthy range.

To ease the situation, cloud seeding operations, which began Tuesday, were to continue over the next few days.

In neighbouring Singapore, PSI readings were expected to stay in the unhealthy range on Wednesday. According to authorities, the air quality may deteriorate further before entering the very unhealthy range.

At 12pm, the 24-hour PSI ranged between 96 and 121, while the three-hour PSI was 92.

“We have to be psychologically prepared that things can fluctuate. We have to take sensible, rational precautions,” said Singapore Minister for Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

“The plans are in place, the stockpiles are in place, if everybody cooperates and works on a whole of Singapore basis, we'll get through this.”

- CNA/pp