PEKANBARU, INDONESIA: Indonesia is battling forest fires causing toxic haze across southeast Asia with aircraft, artificial rain and even prayer, President Joko Widodo said during a visit to a hard-hit area Tuesday.
Forest fires are raging on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, sending a choking fug across the region — including towards neighbours Malaysia and Singapore.
During a visit to Riau province in central Sumatra Tuesday, Widodo said nearly 6,000 troops had been sent to hot spots to help put out fires.
“We have made every effort,“ he said.
As well as firefighters on the ground, dozens of aircraft were being used to seed clouds and bomb blazes with water, he said.
“We have also prayed,“ he added, after a visit to Amrulloh Mosque in Pekanbaru.
The toxic smoke caused by deliberate burning to clear land for plantations is an annual problem for Indonesia and its neighbours, but has been worsened this year by particularly dry weather.
Authorities on Monday said they had arrested nearly 200 people suspected of being involved in activities that led to the out-of-control fires.
Four corporations were also being investigated, authorities said.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meteorological agency said Tuesday the number of hotspots had stabilised, but a thick haze continued to cloak the region.
On Borneo island, which Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei, pollution levels were “hazardous”, according to environment ministry data. Hundreds of schools across Indonesia were shut.
In peninsular Malaysia, the met office and air force were working together to seed clouds with chemicals in the hope that rainfall would clear the haze.
But hundreds of schools were closed Tuesday, affecting more than 350,000 students.
Air quality was at “unhealthy” or “very unhealthy’ levels in many parts of peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak state on Borneo, officials said.
Air quality improved in Singapore and was in the “moderate” range after slipping to “unhealthy” levels over the weekend, officials there said. — AFP