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Jakarta Post

Protests against land, forest fires increase as haze worsens

  • Apriadi Gunawan and Rizal Harahap

    The Jakarta Post

Medan/Pekanbaru   /   Sat, October 24, 2015   /  03:11 pm
Protests against land, forest fires increase as haze worsens Inferno:: A resident points to burning land in a hilly area near Sentani airport, Jayapura, Papua on Friday. The fire, which is believed to have been started by residents wanting to clear land, has spread due to strong winds. (JP/Nethy Dharma Somba) (JP/Nethy Dharma Somba)

Inferno:  A resident points to burning land in a hilly area near Sentani airport, Jayapura, Papua on Friday. The fire, which is believed to have been started by residents wanting to clear land, has spread due to strong winds. (JP/Nethy Dharma Somba)

Protests against forest and land fires are increasingly widespread in haze-affected regions as pollution from the fires worsens across Sumatra and Kalimantan.

In Medan, North Sumatra, air pollution in the city is four times more severe than normal.

The thick smog has also continued to disrupt flights at Kualanamu International Airport and other airports in North Sumatra and Aceh as visibility is limited to 1,000 meters.

Kristin Matondang of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency'€™s (BMKG) Medan branch said the haze blanketing Medan and surrounding regions came from Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra as no hot spots had been detected in North Sumatra.

'€œAt 1 p.m. the concentration of particulate matter [PM10] in Medan was 549.12 µg/m³, much higher than the normal concentration of 150 µg/m³,'€ Kristin said on Friday.

The conditions moved some community groups to stage protests across Medan.

The Alliance of North Sumatra People Against Haze, for example, staged a rally at Bundaran Majestik by conducting a theatrical performance entitled Burned Forest People.

A similar rally was staged by dozens of activists from Satria Hijau (Green Knights) at Merdeka Square, demanding the government get rid of the haze.

'€œWe have been suffering for months because of the thickening haze,'€ said Fitri, a protester.

Protests were also widespread in neighboring Riau province as thousands of university students, teachers and lecturers staged a rally at the governor'€™s office demanding an end to the haze problems.

They urged the government to arrest owners of big companies operating in Riau alleged to be involved in forest and land fires in the region.

'€œThey are big investors that have destroyed forests in Riau. They have caused the haze in Riau,'€ Hendri Marhadi, a protester, said at the rally.

Meanwhile, some 3,000 teachers in Pekanbaru grouped under the Teachers'€™ Forum Against Haze urged the government to declare the haze a national disaster as it had claimed lives.

Pekanbaru Education Agency head Zulfadil, who was among the protesters, urged the President to use all available resources to deal with the smoke.

'€œThe paralysis in the education sector is really deplorable. Something must be done to send students back to school and learning with clean air,'€ Zulfadil said.

Separately in Jambi, residents of Pandan Makmur and Pandan Sejahtera subdistricts in Geragai district, East Tanjungjabung regency, have been trying for two months to extinguish fires in their peatland.

Due to limited facilities and the quick movement of the fires, however, they have not yet extinguished the blaze that has so far burned 100 hectares of peat.

'€œWe only use simple tools to extinguish the fires,'€ chairman of local farmers'€™ association, Edi Suwardi, told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

In Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Antara news agency reported that the pollution had forced six toddlers suffering from respiratory problems to be evacuated along with their parents to Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan.

'€œI am so relieved arriving in Banjarmasin after a few weeks of thick haze in Palangkaraya,'€ Linda, the mother of one of the toddlers, said in Banjarmasin on Thursday.

Separately, a fire on Mount Lawu that caused a blaze in Cemoro Sewu forest in Magetan, East Java, as of Friday had spread to as far as Cemoro Kandang forest in Karanganyar, Central Java.


'€” Ganug Nugroho Adi in Surakarta and Jon Afrizal in Jambi also contributed to this story

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