Haze at alert levels in Riau

JAKARTA: The government has warned residents in part of Sumatra island to stay indoors as smoke from annual forest fires has reached “alert levels”, news reports said yesterday. 

The fires – set by farmers, plantation owners and loggers to clear land – are an annual event in Kalimantan and Sumatra, sending smoke billowing across neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand. 

The haze has reached “alert levels” in Sumatra's Riau province, the state-run Antara news agency quoted Ekmal Rusdi, the province's deputy health director, as saying. 

“We call on people to stay indoors, especially at night. The condition can cause respiratory and lung disease,” Rusdi was quoted as saying. 

Officials had detected over 80 hotspots on Sumatra and Kalimantan, The Jakarta Post newspaper reported yesterday. 

So far, however, the haze, which is at its worst during the dry season from July to October, has not caused health concerns in other areas of Indonesia or in neighbouring countries. 

But the skies over the Riau town of Pekanbaru have been especially dark and gray recently. 

“The haze is already disturbing our breathing, especially at night,'' said Mansur, an official with Indonesia's meteorology agency in Pekanbaru. 

Mansur said the alert level had yet to reach that of previous years, when schools were forced to close, flights were cancelled and visibility was reduced to only 100m in certain areas. – AP 

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