The Jakarta Post
Thick haze produced by land and forest fires has continued to blanket several parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan, forcing local authorities to temporarily shut down schools and prompting airlines to ground their aircraft on safety concerns.
In West Sumatra, the administrations of Payakumbuh municipality, Limapuluh Kota and Dharmasraya regencies, have temporarily shut down all schools from Tuesday until Thursday to prepare for the impact of worsening haze in their respective regions.
'Students were told to take days off, starting today. My daughter, who is a ninth grader, is studying at home,' Payakumbuh resident Yulfian Azrial told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
West Sumatra Health Agency head Rosnini Savitri said almost all regions in the province were covered in haze on Tuesday, with Dharmasraya, Limapuluh Kota and Payakumbuh suffering the most.
'Fortunately, this is not the first time local residents have experienced this [haze]. They are now better prepared to face it and understand the impact of haze on their health,' Rosnini said.
The Jambi municipal administration also sent all students home on Tuesday. The administration's spokesperson, Abu Bakar, said the measure had to be taken as air quality in the Jambi provincial capital had reached a dangerous level and could put children's health at risk.
Local authorities in many parts of the country, particularly Sumatra and Kalimantan, have been struggling over the past few months to extinguish massive land and forest fires triggered mainly by this year's extended dry season.
In Riau, the country's largest oil-producing region, the province's health agency reported that 15,234 people had suffered from haze-related illnesses, with the majority of them suffering from acute respiratory infection (ISPA).
Riau Health Agency head Andra Sjafril said on Tuesday that air quality in the province had reached an 'unhealthy' level, with visibility in the morning ranging from 100 to 400 meters.
The management of Sultan Syarif Kasim II International (SSK) Airport in Pekanbaru also reported that low visibility in the Riau provincial capital had disrupted 22 flights to and from the airport on Tuesday.
'Sixteen flights were delayed while six others have been canceled,' SSK II general manager Dani Indra Irawan said, as quoted by Antara news agency.
In Central Kalimantan, the provincial transportation agency also reported that, from Aug. 22 to Sept. 6, 50 flights scheduled to leave or arrive in the province had been canceled while 80 others had experienced delays due to the fluctuating intensity of haze in the province.
'Most [flight] cancellations and delays occurred in the morning when visibility was only 700 meters,' the agency's air transportation division head, M. Kasturi told Antara.
Haze from Sumatra was also reported to have reached neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.
Several areas in western Malaysia, including the capital Kuala Lumpur, recorded unhealthy air quality, the AFP reported on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) on Tuesday called on people in the country to take preventive measures to minimize health impacts from the haze, which has been predicted to blanket the city-state until Wednesday.
'Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, healthy people should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion,' the NEA said in its advisories.
In response to the worsening haze and escalating pressure from the public, the Indonesian government announced on Tuesday that it would freeze or revoke permits of concession holders whose land had been burned.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry, as the coordinator of the newly established haze emergency national task force, said that the government had decided to impose administrative sanctions even before the ministry took the cases to court.
'The Environment and Forestry Ministry decided to take a new approach. While the legal proceedings [of forest fires] continue, decisions need to be made and steps need to be taken regarding the permits of the firms in question,' Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told a press conference at her office in Jakarta.
During his recent visit to Ogan Komering Ilir regency in South Sumatra, among the regions hit hardest by forest fires, President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo instructed the government to revoke the concession permits of palm oil company PT Tempirai Palm Resources.
Hans Nicholas Jong in Jakarta and Jon Afrizal in Jambi contributed to the article
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