Air quality at ‘dangerous’ levels as fires spread


FOREST and ground fires are spreading to new areas in Indonesia even as Health Minister Sujudi admitted yesterday that air quality in the worst haze-hit provinces had reached “dangerous” levels.

For the first time, the military came out with an appeal yesterday for foreign assistance in the form of equipment to fight the environmental catastrophe, which has blanketed parts of South-east Asia with thick haze for several weeks now.

The Antara national news agency reported new outbreaks on Mount Tumpeng in Central Java and the Mount Rinjani National Park in Lombok.

Fires destroyed hundreds of hectares of forests, and the authorities said that they were unable to control the blazes.

The report said fires were also spreading in Mount Merbau in Central Java and Mount Malabar and two other mountains in West Java.

The spreading fires have added to Indonesia’s woes as the government has been trying, with limited success, to contain forest and ground blazes in North Sulawesi, Irian Jaya and the two worst-hit areas – Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Minister Sujudi, while not referring to specific regions, said air quality had reached “dangerous” levels and was now “endangering people’s health”.

In some affected areas, it had reached 260 particles per cubic metre, on a scale where 100 was considered tolerable, he said, adding that in other areas, “the level has reached 2,000”.

Jakarta has responded to the fires – blamed on plantations and shifting cultivation – by threatening to hit hard at those who continue to defy a ban on burning.

The government has threatened to revoke the permits of 176 plantations, including those belonging to well-connected businessmen, if they do not explain the cause of fires on their land by today.

More than 50,000 military personnel are involved in efforts to quell fires, along with over 1,000 Malaysian firefighters and experts from countries including Singapore.

Posted in Indonesia