The Jakarta Post
After weeks of forced school closures, students in many parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan returned to school this week, thanks to rains that have helped clear haze and end severe air pollution in their respective areas.
In Indragiri Hulu regency, Riau, the local education agency reopened schools on Monday after shutting them down for almost two months on account of thick haze produced by forest and peatland fires that enveloped the area.
'There has been no haze for the past few days. The weather is improving. We can see the sun again from morning to the afternoon,' the education agency's secretary, Winaldi, said on Monday.
To help students catch up missing schoolwork, Winaldi said that all schools in the regency must effectively use the remaining school days before the semester exam, which has been scheduled for mid-December.
'They can do so by providing additional school hours or additional courses held after school,' he said.
In Pekanbaru, schools resumed activities on Wednesday as heavy rains fell over the provincial capital.
FA Jabbar, a student at SMP 8 Pekanbaru state junior high school, said he was glad to return to school.
'I get to see my friends again at school. We weren't able to see each other because of the haze,' he said.
Apart from Riau, the country's largest oil-producing region, West Sumatra, Jambi, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan were among the provinces hardest hit by the air pollution originating from fires in peatland and plantations over the past few months.
The ongoing disaster has also been exacerbated by this year's long dry season triggered by the El NiÃ±o weather phenomenon.
The same excitement was also expressed by teachers and students in Padang, West Sumatra, as they went back to school on Monday after a week of closures.
'We have subjects to catch up,' said Eldawati, an English teacher at SMP 24 Padang state junior high school.
Alberth Nahas, a researcher with the Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) station in Bukit Kototabang, Agam regency, said that it was possible for haze to return but at the same time the chance of rain over the West Sumatra region was high enough to reduce the impacts of haze.
In Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Antara news agency reported that local students had also returned last week after five weeks off.
In Papua, heavy downpours helped reduce the number of hot spots in the southern part of the province from 164 last month to only four on Monday.
Meanwhile, in East Kalimantan, some 1,200 hectares of forest within the Wain River Protected Forest (HLSW), located to the north of Balikpapan, have reportedly been razed by fires in the area over the last week.
Balikpapan Environmental Agency head Suryanto said the fires had also razed two hectares of untouched primary forest in the area, forcing hundreds of wild animals to flee the forest.
'We also found many of them dead,' HLSW's ecotourism and environmental education coordinator, Agusdin, said.
Among the affected protected animals included a mouse-deer, deer, hedgehog, pangolin and enggang birds.
In Boyolali, Central Java, the forest on the slopes of Mount Merapi caught fire on Sunday night, forcing officers from the Boyolali Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) to evacuate hundreds of climbers from the volcano.
'We have finished evacuations. The peak of Mt. Merapi is clear of climbers now. We are now focusing on extinguishing the fire,' Boyolali BPBD's emergency section head, Kurniawan Fajar Prasetyo, said on Monday.
Nethy Dharma Somba in Jayapura, N. Adri in Balikpapan and Ganug Nugroho Adi in Boyolali contributed to this story.
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