Commemorating Youth Pledge Day on Wednesday, thousands of activists, students and lecturers in Riau and West Sumatra staged rallies, urging the government to resolve the prolonged haze problem.
Calling their rally 'Pledge against Haze', students and lecturers from Sultan Syarif Kasim State Islamic University in Pekanbaru marched from their campus to occupy the yard of the Riau governor's office.
The students then together pronounced a pledge adapted from the one pronounced by Indonesian youth leaders in 1928: 'We, as Indonesian sons and daughters, acknowledge one motherland free from haze, one nation that does not burn land or forests and one language that fights against the government and corporations that cause haze.'
The protesters managed to begin lowering the national flag at the gubernatorial office, but police officers intervened to hoist it back up.
'We want to use today's symbolism to demand that the government take concrete steps to resolve the haze problem,' the rally's field coordinator Rizky Ananda said.
The protesters, according to Rizky, demanded the revocation of a gubernatorial decree that allows residents to burn land of a certain area, as well as the arrest of directors of corporations that burn land and the seizure of company assets.
'The government should also immediately send medicine to remote villages affected by the haze,' he said.
The demonstrators also urged the government to review permits for palm oil plantations and industrial forest plantations to prevent haze reoccurring in the future, he added.
'Revoke half of all palm oil and industrial forest plantation permits to prevent haze in the future,' Rizky said.
The protesters also asked all political parties to establish medical centers to help residents suffering from haze-related diseases.
'If the political parties do not set up medical centers, we will call on people to boycott them during the next regional elections,' he said.
Meanwhile in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, hundreds of students in face masks marched from Belakang Balok to the city legislative council building. The students demanded the government review the permits of plantations believed to have caused land and forest fires.
In Padang, the capital city of the province, students and activists from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) distributed masks and leaflets to motorists.
'We are distributing 750 masks and still collecting donations from the public to help haze-affected areas, especially in Sijunjung and Dhamasraya regencies,' said rally participant Novi Fani Rovika.
On Wednesday, haze decreased after sporadic rain in some parts of West Sumatra. However, the Air Pollution Standard Index (ISPU) remained at the 'unhealthy' level, with particulate matter (PM10) measured at 240 micrograms per cubic meter (Âµg/mÂ³).
'PM10 levels are lower than in previous days, but still at an unhealthy level,' said Alberth Nahas, a researcher with Global Atmosphere Watch Kototabang.
According to the government's existing guidelines, air quality is considered 'healthy' if its PM10 level stands below 50 Âµg/mÂ³, 'moderate' when the level stands between 50 and 150 Âµg/mÂ³, 'unhealthy' between 150 and 350 Âµg/mÂ³, 'very unhealthy' between 350 and 420 Âµg/mÂ³ and 'dangerous' when it surpasses 420 Âµ-g/mÂ³.
In Deli Serdang regency, North Sumatra, the number of people suffering severe acute respiratory infections (ISPA) increased from 3,835 patients in July to 5,627 in August as a result of the haze.
Among the patients were three siblings, Ramadhani, 11, Pandry, 7, and Putri, 5, who were being treated in the same room at Deli Serdang General Hospital on Wednesday.
Juningsih, the mother of the three patients, said her children had needed treatment at the hospital after breathing in polluted air.
'My three children are suffering fever, coughs and nausea. The Doctor said it is ISPA, probably because of the haze,' said Juningsih.
To receive comprehensive and earlier access to The Jakarta Post print edition, please subscribe to our epaper through iOS' iTunes, Android's Google Play, Blackberry World or Microsoft's Windows Store. Subscription includes free daily editions of The Nation, The Star Malaysia, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Asia News.