Two Indonesians dead, thousands ill from the haze

TWO Indonesians have died and thousands made sick by smoke from forest fires that have left a cloud of thick smoke and haze across South-east Asia.

Mr Suyono Yahya, secretary of the coordinating minister for people’s welfare, said the two died from respiratory illness caused by the haze, and that the number of fatalities might rise given the worsening situation.

His comments came as the haze became thicker in various provinces of Sumatra and Kalimantan and remained at unhealthy levels in Malaysia, with the Air Pollutant Index in Sarawak showing a reading as high as 599 at noon.

The haze hit the Thai resort of Phuket yesterday and spread over the main island of Luzon in the Philippines, but eased in the southern Philippines, which had been affected over the weekend.

The air quality readings for the affected areas in Indonesia continued to rise, exceeding 300 points.

Environment officials believe that, with more fires breaking out, particularly in South Sumatra, the readings for the areas are likely to reach the 500-mark next week.

Jakarta is gradually beginning to feel the effects of the haze with visibility becoming much worse in the capital compared to last week.

Mr Suyono disclosed that more than 32,000 people in provinces of Sumatra and Kalimantan had been afflicted with severe respiratory problems in the last two months from thick smoke and haze from forest fires there.

He said that the Health Ministry was monitoring the air pollution in these areas. Local governors were also required to monitor and publicise the air quality.

The Antara national news agency yesterday quoted him as saying that the government had advised those affected by the haze to wear masks to protect themselves.

Meanwhile, reports from Kuala Lumpur said more than 15,000 Malaysians, many of them young children or the elderly, had been treated for illnesses caused by the smog drifting from Indonesia.

An AFP report cited health department director Shukor Mohammad Noor as saying that doctors at government hospitals and clinics in the central state of Selangor were working round-the-clock attending to those affected by the haze.

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