Some residents have even shifted to other areas, including to Java Island.
Over the last three days, the air pollution standard index in Central Kalimantan Province reached a level so hazardous that it could significantly endanger public health.
On Oct. 20 morning in Palangka Raya, the air pollution standard index had reached 1950.33 pm10, while a level of above 300 pm10 is categorically hazardous to health.
With such a deteriorating haze condition, the authorities should have evacuated the entire population affected by the haze.
"All efforts to tackle the haze problem have been concentrated in the Sumatra Island, while Central Kalimantan has been ignored," Chairman of the Central Kalimantan Dayak Customary Council (DAD), Sabran Achmad, said in Central Kalimantan when coordinating a coin collecting campaign on Oct. 21 as a protest against the government.
The province has a vast peatland area which is prone to wildfires.
In a move mocking the government, thousands of people in Palangka Raya, the provincial capital, contributed small change in the form of coins that would be sent to the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry and the Health Ministry in Jakarta.
The two ministries would hopefully use the money, in the form of these coins, to help extinguish forest, peatland and plantation fires that have led to this thick blanket of haze, Director of the Borneo Institute Yanedi Jagau said.
The haze has been chocking the public, leading to frustration, said Jagau.
"The inhabitants of Central Kalimantan could no longer sit idle and accept the condition. Everybody has become frustrated and no longer can anyone bear the thick haze. Hopefully, this protest will make the central government realize the gravity of the situation," Jagau added.
They have demanded that the government must arrange to induce artificial rain to disperse the haze or smoke resulting from forest fires.
"Honestly, we can no longer bear the condition. We beg the government to take expeditious action to make artificial rain, and not sit idle," Ana, a local resident of Pahandut, said on Oct. 20.
The haze is becoming a survival issue, making it difficult for the people to live a normal life, and is particularly affecting the health of the children, she added.
Many people have suffered from respiratory problems, cough and eye irritation as a result of the haze.
In August 2014, artificial rains were induced by sowing some 76.8 tons of salt using Hercules A-1317 aircraft over Central Kalimantan.
"However, this year, the government has not taken a similar step, even though the haze this year is worse. According to data from the local meteorology office, as of 6 a.m., the air pollution standard index had reached 1,950.33 pm10, which means very dangerous," she remarked.
The head of the Environmental and Forestry office of Palangka Raya, Rawang believes that artificial rains could be effective in dealing with the haze.
The authorities in North Barito, South Barito, Sampit, Muara Teweh and Palangka Raya have been frequently closing schools, right from the kindergarten level to senior high school level, due to haze from the forest.
In Palangka Raya, for instance, the schools were closed from September 10-16, September 25-October 6, October 16-17, and again from October 19-21, due to haze.
"Teachers are actually highly concerned since the learning process of the students has been disrupted frequently due to the haze emanating from forest fires," Septia Rianty, a senior high school teacher, affirmed.
She hoped that the government would take stern action so that such a disaster would not recur in the coming years.
Head of the Palangka Raya education office Norma Hikmah remarked that the decision to close the schools was taken to prevent students from falling ill due to air pollution.
On Oct. 16, haze arising from forest and plantation fires in the province drastically reduced visibility to below 50 meters, while the air pollution standard index reached 1,889.06 pm.
A total of 1,042 hotspots were recorded in the province on the morning of October 15 but the number decreased to 45 in the afternoon. However, next day it again rose to 59 hotspots.
At least 50 residents of Sampit, East Kotawaringin District, have evacuated themselves to other places, including to the Java Island, to avoid haze.
"We are forced to evacuate to Yogyakarta (central Java) because the air in Sampit is very dangerous to health. The visibility is just around 20 to 40 meters," Saputro, a local resident, said.
To get out of Central Kalimantan, Saputro and family had to go to Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan Province, by car, braving the haze and passing through roads where fires are razing forests located on both, right and left sides. All airports in Central Kalimantan have been shut down due to the haze.
In the meantime, Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung in a hearing at the Parliament in Jakarta on Oct. 19, said the government has done its utmost to extinguish forest fires which have been worsened by the El Nino-induced drought.
The government has deployed at least 24,000 personnel including military and police officers to help put out the fires, he said.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI) has called on all Muslims in the country to perform an Istisqa or mass prayer asking for rains in an effort to extinguish the ongoing forest and land fires, particularly on Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands.
"We urge all Muslims in Indonesia to perform the Istisqa," MUI Chairman KH Maruf Amin told journalists in Jakarta on Oct. 21.
Amin said the Istisqa should be preceded by fasting for three days, saying Istighfar (asking for almighty Gods mercy), improving attitude, and practicing a simple and good life.
Muslims in the country need to also ask for pardon from God, leave all sorts of satanic acts, get rid of conflicting attitude towards other people, and intensify acts of charity towards the poor, he said, adding that the prolonged drought might be the almighty Gods warning to Indonesia.
The council has also urged the Indonesian Government to adopt firm and strategic policies and actions that can end the forest and land fires and help deal with the implications of the fires and the prolonged drought, he said.
As for those responsible for the fires that have caused serious health, economic and environmental problems for Indonesia and other countries, they must be punished in accordance with the existing laws. Similarly, the government was urged to assist those suffering from the impact of the drought, he said. ***4***
(T.F001/A/KR-BSR/A/H-YH) 21-10-2015 22:24:45