Riau town official says evacuation is not necessary


HAZE has struck the little-known city of Rengat, in the Sumatran province of Riau, but the city’s chief administrator believes it does not warrant an immediate evacuation of the population.

“The situation has been serious for the last month or so but we don’t think we need to resort to drastic measures yet,” Haji Purnomo Rizal told The Straits Times yesterday.

He added that he had not yet received any word on any government plan to evacuate the area.

“I am surprised with this plan which I am hearing for the first time,” he said in a telephone interview.

Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja said on Wednesday that he would recommend that Rengat’s population of 50,000 people be evacuated immediately because the haze had caused air quality and visibility in the city to become very bad.

Haji Purnomo said the visibility range now stood at 400 m and the local authorities had imposed a speed limit of 70 kmh for cars to avoid traffic accidents.

“We are blessed that we have not had any serious accidents here because visibility can be very poor at times.”

He added that it was difficult to tell if there was an increase in the number of people being treated for acute respiratory illness and asthma because Rengat residents tended to resort to traditional medicines.

Mr Taryono, a manual worker in the city, said the quality of water had also deteriorated.

“The water has a funny taste to it now. My eyes are also wet and breathing is more difficult,” he said.

He said many plantations had been destroyed by a combination of smog and the severe drought which had yet to reach its peak.

The situation was just as bad in Pontianak, West Kalimantan.

Hotel receptionist Nana said she had imposed a curfew on her children because of the smog which she said was “growing thicker by the day”.

She said the airport was closed temporarily and that it had hit tourism badly. Hotel occupancy rates had declined as well and there had also been a big rise in the number of people falling sick.

Added Ms Nana: “A few of my friends even cancelled their wedding ceremonies because of the haze.”

In Jakarta, however, people seem ignorant of the problem.

Said 35-year-old secretary Ms Nunung: “It is always dusty and polluted in Jakarta. So even if we get the haze it does not bother us that much.”

Environmental officials said Jakarta was unaffected by the haze because the wind direction was in its favour.

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