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Jakarta Post

Smoke claims new victim, triggers prolonged health crisis

  • Rizal Harahap and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb

    The Jakarta Post

Pekanbaru/Bukittinggi, West Sumatra   /   Thu, October 8, 2015   /  06:12 pm

The prolonged haze crisis in Sumatra and Kalimantan continues to overwhelm local residents and authorities, as the disaster has created a severe health crisis that has been fatal in the worst-affected areas.

In Riau, thick haze that has blanketed the provincial capital of Pekanbaru for several weeks has claimed the life of local civil servant Muhammad Iqbal Hali, 31, who died earlier this week from suspected respiratory failure.

Iqbal, who worked for the Riau office of the Religious Affairs Ministry, passed away on Monday en route to a local hospital. Iqbal, who suffered from asthma, returned home early that day due to severe breathing problems.

'€œHe could not breathe. His face was pale. I hugged him and he hugged me back. He lay down and then was silent,'€ Iqbal'€™s father, Hasan Amal, said as quoted by Antara news agency on Wednesday.

Over the past few months, air pollution from fires on peatland and plantations has severely affected several regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan, particularly Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Sumatra and Central Kalimantan.

The crisis has been exacerbated by this year'€™s prolonged dry season, caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Last month, a 2-year-old child and a 15-year-old student from Jambi also died after experiencing acute respiratory infections (ISPA).

Data from the Pekanbaru station of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) pointed to 421 hot spots indicating land and forest fires across Sumatra as of Wednesday. Of those, 351 were detected in South Sumatra, 45 in Lampung, 14 in Jambi, seven in Bangka Belitung and four in Bengkulu.

'€œDespite the absence of hot spots in Riau, the province will remain enveloped by thick haze as long as there is no rain in the southern part of Sumatra and no change in wind direction,'€ said Slamet Riyadi, the station'€™s data and information division head.

In West Sumatra, thick smoke blanketed Payakumbuh and Bukittinggi on Wednesday, reducing visibility in the two municipalities to below 800 meters.

Despite the harsh environment, many people were seen outdoors without masks. A number of families were also seen taking their children to visit the Jam Gadang (Big Clock) tower, a landmark building and main tourist attraction in Bukittinggi.

'€œWe could not leave our kids at home. They wanted to come along sightseeing, but it'€™s difficult to find a suitable mask for a baby,'€ said Yunita from neighboring Agamn regency, who visited Bukittinggi with her husband and their 5-year-old and 1-year-old daughters.

According to the BMKG, Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan has become the city with the worst air quality in the country after its level of particulate matter (PM10) was measured at an average of 623 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³) on Wednesday morning.

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