Indonesian govt to evacuate millions if air quality worsens


THE Indonesian government is prepared to evacuate millions of residents affected by haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan to Jakarta and other areas if pollution levels deteriorate further.

Environment ministry officials contacted on Friday said that health teams, which had been dispatched to four affected areas, would assess and advise the government if the situation on the ground warranted an evacuation.

“We are now collecting as much information as possible on the severity of the problem in a number of areas,” Mr Yon Artiono Arbai, head of the Environmental Impact Management Agency’s haze control unit, told The Straits Times.

“We will move them out if their lives are at risk.”

He declined to indicate the areas targeted for evacuation, but an Environment Ministry source said these were in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and Pontianak, which have been worst hit by the haze.

Mr Yon said Pollution Standard Index (PSI) levels in Riau and Jambi were hovering at the 300 level and could go up much higher in the weeks ahead.

Visibility was also low, particularly in Rengat city in Riau, where it ranged between zero and 100 metres.

Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja first broached the idea of evacuating affected areas as part of a package of measures, which the government would implement to tackle the problem.

On Wednesday, he recommended that Rengat city and its population of 50,000 in the Riau province should be evacuated immediately due to the worsening smog.

He told reporters a day later that other areas needed similar action given that people in these areas also faced “limited visibility” and had difficulty breathing.

Mr Sarwono said the government had the mechanism to deal with such a move in the form of the Coordinating Agency for National Emergencies (Bakornas).

“We need to act fast to help these people who have been under adverse conditions for the last one or two weeks.” So far, more than 100,000 residents in Riau have sought medical treatment for respiratory illness.

He said letters were sent to Bakornas and local officials recommending the evacuation and added that two teams were sent to West Kalimantan and Jambi last Wednesday to notify the governors of the plan.

If the plan is activatated, residents from affected areas would be moved to Jakarta, which has so far escaped the effects of the thick haze.

Mr Yon said people would be moved to “areas not affected by the haze”, but stressed that while evacuation was high on the government’s agenda, it would only be carried out “under the most serious of conditions”.

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