The Jakarta Post
As the number of victims from the haze blanketing Sumatra and Kalimantan continues to rise, the government is rolling out a plan to evacuate people living in the worst-affected areas to the sea.
A meeting at the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister on Wednesday agreed on the evacuation plan, which would first target babies and children, who are prone to sickness from the hazardous haze particles.
Late on Wednesday, 9-year-old Pekanbaru resident Ramadhani Lutfi Aerli passed away from an acute respiratory tract infection, bringing the death toll from this year's haze crisis to 10.
'We are leaning toward evacuating [those in] regions with an Air Pollution Standard Index [ISPU] that has passed the safe level. We are discussing it and will arrive at a decision today or tomorrow,' Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said on Thursday.
The government is mulling the drastic measure because of the seriousness of the situation in some areas. 'I heard that in Central Kalimantan the situation is extremely dire,' Luhut said.
Luhut also said the government was resigned to the possibility that the situation would not get better within the next five weeks as the current El NiÃ±o weather phenomenon will last until the end of the year, with many scientists predicting it could become one of the worst on record.
'We have a critical five-week period that forces us to take action immediately,' Luhut said. 'The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency [BMKG] reported that there is a slim chance of rain until the end of November. From our satellite images, the fires start on peat land with a depth of between five and 10 meters. Therefore, water bombing alone will not be enough to extinguish the fires,' he said.
As dozens of fixed-wing water bombers and more than 20,000 personnel try to extinguish rampant land and forest fires, which have razed 1.7 million hectares of land in Indonesia this year, as many as 450,000 people have fallen victim to the haze, suffering from acute respiratory ailments.
With 500 more people becoming ill from the haze every week, the government has said there might be no other solution apart from evacuating people.
'We might evacuate [people] to the southern region which may have a lower ISPU. Probably in Banjarmasin [South Kalimantan],' Luhut said.
South Kalimantan has the lowest ISPU level among regions engulfed by the haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan, with Central Kalimantan being the highest.
'If the ISPU [in the south] is also severe, then they will be evacuated to ships,' said Luhut. 'We will probably use ships owned by the Indonesian Military [TNI] or state-owned shipping firm PT Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia [Pelni] for the next four to five months to house the residents.'
Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa said that her ministry was ready to prepare logistics for the evacuation once the government gave the go-ahead for the plan.
'There is a training center run by the Social Affairs Ministry in Banjarmasin with 250 rooms. It could accommodate 250 families. We will use this if there's a decision to evacuate people from Central Kalimantan,' she said.
The government also plans to set up air-tight spaces for evacuees to live in.
'So these air-tight tents mean that there is no air coming in from outside, but the tents use air purifiers,' Health Minister Nila F. Moeloek told a press briefing at her office on Thursday. 'We will send another five shelters to Palangkaraya [Central Kalimantan].'
She said there were already three shelters set up in Palangkaraya, and several others in Riau.
With so many government agencies involved in the haze mitigation effort, President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo is expected to issue a presidential instruction (Inpres) on the handling of the disaster, which would serve as legal protection for the ministries in their efforts.
'The President will issue the Inpres [...] to provide a legal umbrella for these activities,' Luhut said.
Meanwhile, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) chief Willem Rampangilei said that foreign assistance had not helped much in putting out the fires.
'Even though Australia sent its planes with big capacities of 15,000 liters, capable of conducting five water bombings a day, that just lasted for five days as they had to go back to their country because Australia also had forest fires,' he said on Thursday. 'The only foreign assistance left now is from Singapore with one helicopter carrying 5 tons of water. So while there is foreign assistance, it's not significant as it only lasted for a short period of time.'
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