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Jakarta Post

Haze crisis expands, disrupts education, air travel

  • Rizal Harahap and Nethy Dharma Somba

    The Jakarta Post

Pekanbaru/Jayapura   /   Sat, October 17, 2015   /  06:05 pm

Despite the government'€™s pledge to make all-out efforts to end the prolonged haze crisis, smoke from land and forest fires has continued to spread across a number of the country'€™s major islands, disrupting education and air travel.

In Central Kalimantan, the Palangkaraya municipal administration decided on Friday morning to close down local schools after learning that thick haze had increased the concentration of particulate matter (PM10) in the city to 1889.06 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³).

'€œIn line with the policy issued by the city'€™s education agency, we have asked our students to return home. Schools will be temporarily shut down until Oct. 17,'€ Hertiani, a teacher at Palangkaraya Catholic Junior High School, said as quoted by Antara news agency on Friday.

Authorities consider air quality '€œgood'€ if its PM10 concentration stands below 50 µg/m³, '€œmoderate'€ when the level stands between 50 and 150 µg/m³, '€œunhealthy'€ between 150 and 250 µg/m³, '€œvery unhealthy'€ between 250 and 3500 µg/m³ and '€œhazardous'€ when it surpasses 350 µg/m³.

Data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reveals the provincial capital of Palangkaraya is one of the worst-hit cities, along with Pekanbaru in Riau, Palembang in South Sumatra and Jambi.

Since last month, the Palangkaraya municipal administration has given local students at least 25 days off from school to minimize the health impacts of the haze.

'€œTo help students catch up with the teaching curriculum, teachers have given them assignments,'€ Hertiani said.

Over the past few months, many provinces, including Riau, Jambi, North Sumatra, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan, have been struggling to cope with the impacts of smoke from both man-made and natural land and forest fires.

The ongoing disaster has been exacerbated by this year'€™s long dry season triggered by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

In Riau, haze thickened again on Friday after the intensity had gradually declined over the past several days. Visibility in the provincial capital of Pekanbaru, for example, dropped to 500 meters.

'€œIn Rengat, indeed, the visibility was recorded at only 10 m as a result of the haze and fog,'€ BMKG Pekanbaru office spokesperson Slamet Riyadi said on Friday.

In Padang, the West Sumatra Disaster Risk Mitigation Forum (F-PRB) urged the central government to declare a national emergency status for haze, arguing that the move was needed to put an end to the crisis.

'€œThe national emergency status will make it easier for related institutions to take action and to formulate budget policy. The country'€™s resources will be mobilized to deal with the haze,'€ said the forum'€™s coordinator, Khalid Saifullah.

The haze crisis has meanwhile spread to the eastern part of the country.

In Papua, local authorities closed down Mozes Kilangin Airport in Timika, Mimika regency, on Thursday as a result of thick haze that has reduced visibility in the area to only 500m.

'€œHaze has been visible in Timika since last week but it has been thickening over the past couple of days,'€ Mimika Transportation Agency head John Rettob said on Friday, adding that the haze might have spread from fires in the south of the island.

The airport authority, according to John, needs a minimum visibility of 1,500m to give an aircraft landing or take-off clearance.

BMKG'€™s Region V Jayapura office head Sem Padamma, meanwhile, said his office had detected 104 hot spots in southern Papua, with 92 spotted in Merauke regency and the remaining 12 in Mappi regency.

In South Sulawesi, fires have reportedly ravaged the Hasanuddin University (Unhas) educational forest in Cenrana district, Maros regency, since Thursday, for the second time this month.

Maros Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Suyuti said the fires had, as of Friday, burned down some 20 hectares of the forest.

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb in Padang and Andi Hajramurni in Makassar contributed to this article.

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