JAKARTA, INDONESIA – The authorities have closed most of the schools in some parts of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia to protect children from dense and harmful haze while fires deliberately burned in the peat forests, officials said Wednesday.
The Indonesian disaster mitigation agency has reported that over 3600 fires have been detected on the Sumatra and Borneo islands from meteorological satellites, leading to very poor air quality in six provinces with a combined population of over 23 million .
Almost every year, Indonesian forest fires spread health-damaging haze throughout the country and neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.
The authorities have deployed more than 9,000 people to fight fires, which have destroyed more than 162,000 hectares (400,000 acres) of land in the provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, western Kalimantan, central Kalimantan and southern Kalimantan.
Provincial secretary of Riau Ahmad Syah Harofie said that air pollution hit dangerous levels in the provincial capital, Pekanbaru, and was very unhealthy in many other areas. Several thousand schools in the capital and three other cities and districts have been closed since Tuesday.
He said that nearly 300,000 people in the province have suffered from respiratory diseases since January, when this and the other five provinces have declared a state of emergency due to forest fires.
The fires burned parts of the Tesso Nilo National Park in Riau, home to about 140 endangered elephants, according to Edward Sanger, spokesman for the local disaster agency.
Thousands of Muslims, many wearing masks to protest the smoke, joined the mass prayers for rain in Pekanbaru.
Even the authorities of Jambi, another province of the island of Sumatra, have ordered the closure of several thousand schools.
About 8,000 people suffered from respiratory problems only last week, according to the Jambi health office.
Poor visibility caused delays at several airports on Wednesday.
The Disaster Mitigation Agency said the satellites have detected about 5,062 hotspots nationwide on Wednesday morning, with the largest number in central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. He said 37 helicopters dropped nearly 240 million liters (63 million gallons) of water as part of the fire efforts.
The number of hotspots decreased significantly to 2,388 Wednesday afternoon, the agency said.
Mist is an annual problem for Southeast Asia. The record of Indonesian forest fires in 2015 spread haze in a strip of Southeast Asia and, according to a study by Harvard and Columbia universities, accelerated 100,000 deaths.
Fires are often ignited by smallholders and plantation owners to clear the land for planting. Many areas of Indonesia are subject to rapid burns due to the drainage of marshy swampy forests for wood pulp and palm oil plantations.
In neighboring Malaysia, the largest city, Kuala Lumpur, and the administrative center of the Putrajaya government were among the areas shrouded in Wednesday's dense smog. On Tuesday, hundreds of schools in the eastern state of Sarawak, on the border with the province of Kalimantan, Indonesia, were closed for a day after the quality of the air rose to unhealthy levels.
The Malaysian authorities intend to conduct cloud seeding to induce rain to alleviate the haze. The government has stated that it will press Jakarta to take immediate action to extinguish the burning forests and ensure that fires are not repeated.
. (tagsToTranslate) haze of forest fires