Pollution leads to school closures in two Borneo cities

Sick of the haze: Students protesting outside the Riau governor’s office in Pekanbaru, demanding that the government do more to fight the forest fires. — AFP

PALANGKA RAYA: Schools in two cities in the Indonesian part of Borneo island will be closed for a week after smoke from forest fires caused air quality to hit “dangerous” levels, a local government official has announced.

The air pollution index in Palangka Raya, the capital of Borneo’s Central Kalimantan province, hit 500 or “dangerous” on Sunday, data from Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Ministry showed.

Any reading above 100 is considered “unhealthy”.

An official said yesterday that schools in Palangka Raya and another city, Sampit, would be shut throughout the week, in line with instructions circulated by Central Kalimantan’s governor on Friday.

“From our observation, the smoke is very thick in Palangka Raya and Sampit, ” Slamet Winaryo, the head of Central Kalimantan’s education agency, said by telephone.

“We have decided to give one week off from Monday to Saturday for the students in both locations, ” he said.

He did not say how many pupils or schools would be affected.

Winaryo added that other schools in Central Kalimantan would start half an hour later.

Schools have also been advised to cut the duration for each class into 30-minute periods.

Indonesia’s environment minister said on Friday that some forest fires in its territory had started on land used by subsidiaries of Malaysian companies, as the neighbours traded blame for blazes that have spread haze across the region.

A Reuters photographer in Palangka Raya said visibility was down to around 50 metres.

Air Visual, an independent online air quality index monitor, showed that the city’s air quality had been “hazardous” since Friday.

Indonesian authorities have urged Central Kalimantan residents to refrain from outdoor activities or to wear a mask due to the severe pollution.

“There are many hotspots in Kalimantan. Those are high-category hotspots, ” Agus Wibowo, the country’s disaster mitigation agency spokesman, said. — Reuters

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