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.