Indonesia: Smoke forces suspension of school activities in Riau

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 22 Feb 19;

Smoke believed to be coming from wildfire forced six elementary schools in Dumai in the province of Riau to close early on Thursday.

Dumai Health Agency head Faisal said health concerns had pushed his team to stop school activities earlier than usual after thousands of residents in Dumai had become sick from the polluted air.

The affected schools include state elementary schools SDN 13, SDN 14, SDN 17 Buluh Kasap and SDN 5 Karang Anyer.

“This morning, [the smoke] was indeed thick, which is why many students were sent home,” Faisal said on Thursday.

He said school officials were obligated to call the parents to pick up their children and ensure their safety until they reach home.

To mitigate the pollution hazard, Faisal said he had instructed local health centers to distribute free face masks and advise students to avoid outdoor activities during the hazy period.

As of Thursday, the health agency had distributed around 38,000 masks to the public, particularly for kindergarten and elementary school students.

However, the agency has yet to officially declare a holiday over the smoke, as air pollution standard index (ISPU) readings varied from one place to another.

As a result, some schools are still open despite some pollution.

“Because [the smoke] is carried by the wind, there is no way to be sure when the thickness [of the smoke] might increase until the ISPU indicates an unhealthy or even dangerous level,” Faisal said.

He added that health problems typically occurred when the ISPU measurements reached the “red level” (unhealthy) to “black level” (dangerous).

From Feb. 12-16, the health agency recorded 1,081 cases of smoke-related illnesses, mostly in patients below 20 years of age. (mai)

Potential forest fires detected in Indonesia`s Riau province: BMKG
Antara 22 Feb 19;

Pekanbaru, Riau, (ANTARA News) - The Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has detected 54 hotspots, indicating potential occurrences of bush and forest fires, in several parts of Riau Province on Friday.

Referring to the latest images that the Terra & Aqua Satellite released on Friday at 6 a.m. local time, 50 percent of the hotspots were detected in seven districts and cities in the province, the agency`s head, Sukisno, informed journalists here.

"Some 28 hotspots are detected in several areas of Bengkalis District, including Rupat Island with 22 hotspots, while six others are found in the areas of Bantan, Bengkalis, and Mandau sub-districts," he said.

According to Sukisno, 40 of the 54 hotspots, indicating potential occurrences of bush and forest fires, had a confidence level of above 70 percent. They were detected in the district areas of Indragiri Hilir, Dumai, Rokan Hilir, Meranti, and Pelalawan.

Meanwhile, Head of the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) Edwar Sanger noted that 857.71 hectares of land were affected by bush and forest fires since January 2019, some 639 hectares of which were located in Bengkalis District.

The related authorities` mitigation efforts were always hindered by the lack of fire extinguishers and water sources being located away from the affected areas, he stated.

During the second round of Indonesia`s presidential debate focusing on the issues of food, energy, infrastructure, environment, and natural sources on Feb 17, the problem of bush and forest fires was highlighted.

The incumbent presidential candidate Joko Widodo convincingly said that Indonesia had not experienced them over these past three years.

His statement triggered numerous public responses. This statement was then corrected by mainstream media, such as Kompas, and environmental watchdog Greenpeace Indonesia. On Feb 18, the incumbent president tendered a clarification and corrected his statement in the second debate.

Antara noted that the real threats of potential bush and forest fires remained obvious in Riau Province, while the South Sumatra city of Palembang was gearing up for the official start of the 18th Asian Games last year.

Reporting by Anggi Romadhoni
Editing by Rahmad Nasution

Editor: Suharto