Jakarta (Antara News) - At least 307,360 people in six Indonesian provinces, from June 29 to October 5, 2015, sought medical treatment for respiratory problems and other diseases caused by smoke or haze from forest fires coming from Indonesias Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands.

"The number of patients visiting health facilities has increased by 15-20 percent over the last three weeks. The condition will be very worrying if the smoke does not stop," Health Minister Nila Djuwita Moeloek told the press on Oct 6.

Those people living in regions covered by haze have mostly suffered from acute respiratory infections, eye and skin irritations, pneumonia, asthma and diarrhea.

The health ministrys Health Crisis Mitigation Center has recorded some 45,668 cases of haze-related health problems in Riau, 69,734 in Jambi, some 83,276 in South Sumatra, 43,477 in West Kalimantan, 29,104 in South Kalimantan, and 36,101 in Central Kalimantan.

The Air Pollution Standard Indexes as of Oct 6 were respectively at the levels of 395.63, which is hazardous, in Riau, 585.27 (hazardous) in Jambi, 880.85 (hazardous) in South Sumatra, 44.16 (good) in West Kalimantan, 55.46 (moderate) in South Kalimantan, and 763.09 (hazardous) in Central Kalimantan.

Minister Moeloek said her ministry has sent 27,595 tons of medicine and face masks to eight provinces affected by haze.

The haze from Indonesian forest fires have also crossed to the neighboring countries of Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.

Malaysian citizens were advised to stay indoors, while Singaporean authorities cancelled outdoor summer activities as panicked residents emptied stores of supplies of protective masks, media reported.

Zamzami, a Pekanbaru-based media campaigner with Greenpeace Southeast Asia, quoted Dr Nursyam Ibrahim, the Vice President of the Indonesian Medical Association in West Kalimantan, as saying recently that the most high-risk groups who might suffer from poor air quality are babies, toddlers, children, pregnant women and the elderly - being three times more likely to experience very serious consequences, than those not among these groups.

"Short-term effects, like difficulty in breathing and wheezing, can be felt within two months. But long-term effects could result in death from brain damage because of anoxia," said Dr Ibrahim.

According to the American Lung Association, the public must take measures to avoid forest fire smoke. The health effects from smoke can range from mild to severe and even life threatening.

Scientists warn that the pollution, caused mostly from the burning of drained peat lands, could surpass 1997 levels when smog led to an environmental disaster costing an estimated US$9 billion in damage.

Greenpeace said the fires kill roughly 110,000 people a year in the region, through associated conditions.

Data from the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) stated that five infants have died due to smoke in Kalimantan and Sumatra, while 15 others are receiving medical treatment because they suffer from acute respiratory infection, Chairperson of the Socialization Division of KPAI Erlinda told the press on Oct. 9, 2015.

Because infants are most the most vulnerable to haze, the Mayor of Pekanbaru Firdaus in Riau Province has issued an order to evacuate infants under six months of age in 12 sub-districts badly affected by haze arising from the forest fires.

The evacuation has been deemed necessary as Pekanbarus air pollution index reached a hazardous level this past week.

"At present, the air pollution index in Pekanbaru has reached one thousand psi, which is categorized as hazardous," the mayor remarked recently.

The local authorities have coordinated the evacuation of infants below six months of age from underprivileged families, he stated.

The infants are being taken to a city hall that has been transformed into a makeshift nursery and equipped with cribs, air conditioners, and a health clinic. Local authorities also provide milk for the infants.

The infant evacuation command post set up by the municipality is run by a doctor and two nurses, among others, during each shift.

An outpatient clinic has also been opened in the hall to treat those affected by the haze.

Poor families usually do not have good facilities for infants, thus the air quality inside their homes is similar to that outside, he noted.

"Therefore, we are trying to provide facilities, including good air conditioning, so that the infants, the countrys next generation, can breathe clean air," he said.

The Pekanbaru administration has also mobilized some paramedics who are on 24 hour standby to help infants being evacuated to the Pekanbaru municipality office.

"The infants will stay at the city hall as long as the air quality is bad," he noted.

The evacuation of infants is a priority, as the municipality does not have adequate funds to help pregnant women and elderly people, according to the Pekanbaru mayor.

The Riau authorities have opened a number of haze disaster health posts to help inhabitants needing medical treatment due to haze.

Amanda, a local resident of Pekanbaru, said recently that she had taken her daughter Anindya, age 10, to the local community health center, as she was coughing frequently and complained of pain in her chest.

"As parents, we hope the government and others would stop the forest fires because they have severely impacted the health of the countrys younger generation," she said.

The Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) has opened command posts for suing plantation companies responsible for forest fires that have caused widespread haze in a number of provinces.

In a press statement in September 2015, the NGO urged the public to actively fight for their rights for a healthy environment, which is free from haze, and their rights for living healthy lives, as well as the rights of the future generations.

The governments negligence and the companies corporate crimes have claimed many victims, particularly children, who have fallen ill due to the haze.

Their future is being threatened because they are exposed to the haze, Walhi added.

In the meantime, Minister of the Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya said on Oct. 9 that 1.7 million hectares of forests, peatland and plantation areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan have been burnt in the fires.

"Fires have burnt around 1.7 million hectares in Sumatra and Kalimantan," she said, while accompanying President Joko Widodo during an inspection of firefighting efforts in Rimbo Panjang village, Kampar District, Riau Province, Sumatra.

Over 22, 000 military and police personnel have been deployed to Sumatra to extinguish forest fires.

The Indonesian government has also accepted assistance to put out the fires from Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, China, South Korea, and Russia.

To date, the police have named 240 suspects in forest and plantation fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan regions.

President Widodo admitted that the impact of the fires had been immense, especially on the public�s health.

He also said all officials, from the central to the local level, as well as the military (TNI) and the police, have worked hard to fight the fires.

"We have, indeed, been optimal in our efforts, with soldiers, fire fighters, the National Agency for Disaster Mitigation (BNPB) officials, and Manggala Agni fire brigades, but we must also understand the contribution of the El Nino weather phenomenon to the problem. Imagine it affecting 1.7 million hectares, which is wider than Riau," he stated.

He also said efforts to prevent future fires must be the main focus, including anticipatory measures in the form of development of canals and water reservoirs.

Meanwhile, Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa has stated that compensation will soon be distributed to residents living in the haze-hit regions, after obtaining disbursements from Finance Ministry.

"We have forwarded a proposal (for compensation) to the Finance Ministry," Khofifah Parawansa said on Oct 9.

According to Khofifah, her office has proposed that compensation be sent to some 1.44 million holders of the Prosperous Family Card (KKS), with each receiving Rp 900,000 (for 90 days).
10-10-2015 16:48:56

Reporter: Fardah
Editor: Fardah Assegaf
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