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Jakarta Post

Clear days welcomed as thousands recover

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Ina Parlina
Padang/Jakarta   ●   Wed, March 19, 2014

Hotel operators in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, are upbeat as the haze that engulfed the tourist city for more than a month is now receding, while thousands of Riau residents are also now recovering from respiratory illnesses.

The head of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association'€™s Bukittinggi chapter, Syafroni Falian, said hotel operators were excited as the air had been clear since Sunday.

'€œWe are also glad the media has reported that the haze is receding, so our guests will return to Bukittinggi for vacations and to hold meetings,'€ Syafroni said on Tuesday.

According to Syafroni, the haze that blanketed Bukittinggi for more than a month caused a drop in hotel occupancy rates of between 25 and 30 percent. The worst impact was felt when the haze was at its densest, which caused rates to drop by up to 60 percent over a period of five days.

'€œThe impact has been really felt as January to March is still low season [when there is] an occupancy rate of between 35 and 40 percent,'€ he said.

Apart from hotels, a number of tourist sites in Bukittinggi have also struggled as a result of the haze. The number of visitors to the Bukittinggi Wildlife and Cultural Park and Bukittinggi Japanese Cave, for instance, dropped by 60 percent.

As of Tuesday at noon, the air quality in several areas in Riau had also improved, according to National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

'€œThe air quality in Riau is better than before. The ISPU [air pollution standards index] in Pekanbaru is 71, or mid-level, in Duri Camp [the level is] 26, or good and in Petapahan [it is] 37, or good,'€ Sutopo said.

Sutopo also said the Riau Health Agency reported that only two patients were still being treated for haze-related illness.

Previously, the agency recorded that as many as 61,647 Riau residents had suffered from haze-related illnesses, including acute respiratory infections, pneumonia and skin and eye irritation between Feb. 1 and March 18.

Meanwhile, National Police chief Gen. Sutarman reiterated that the police would take a tough stance on dealing with those involved in the land-burning activities that caused the thick haze in Riau.

'€œThe shoot [on sight] measure is at the discretion of the police; there was no order [to do so],'€ Sutarman said on the sidelines of an event at the Vice Presidential Office on Tuesday. '€œHowever, if the offenders harm the police or other people, the police should use their weapons; those are the guidelines.'€

Media outlets have reported that Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan also called for culprits to be shot on sight if they resisted arrest.

Separately, the Forestry Anti-Mafia Coalition demanded that the government improve the timber legality verification system (SVLK), in light of its failure to eradicate illegal logging.

'€œMany corporations seem to have complied with the system, but actually they are continuing to bribe officials in order to get verification,'€ said Emerson Yuntho, law division coordinator for the Indonesia Corruption Watch. (gda)