Indonesia doing its best to combat haze: disaster chief
Indonesia’s disaster chief Tuesday rejected criticism his country was not doing enough to combat the haze crisis, saying every possible resource was being deployed to fight forest fires blanketing Southeast Asia in smog.
Indonesia has come under growing pressure from its neighbors in recent weeks as thick smoke from fires on Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo has sent pollution levels soaring in Malaysia and Singapore, where schools have been closed and major outdoor events canceled.
The blazes flare up annually during the dry season as fires are illegally set to clear land for cultivation. But an El Nino weather system has made conditions drier, with this year’s haze on track to be the worst on record.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has urged Indonesia to take action, saying only Jakarta has the authority to investigate the cause of the fires and convict those responsible.
But Indonesia has rejected suggestions it is not doing enough, with the head of the country’s disaster agency saying all possible resources were being used.
“We have done the best we can,” Willem Rampangilei told reporters.
“It is understandable if other countries are upset, but we Indonesians are more upset.”
Pollution in Singapore and Malaysia has risen beyond hazardous levels since the haze outbreak began last month, while levels more than five times that limit have been recorded on the Indonesian part of Borneo island.
Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
Schools in many parts of Malaysia were closed for a second straight day Tuesday, part of a two-day shutdown announced at the weekend as pollution levels soared. Air quality readings were unhealthy along parts of country’s west coast facing Sumatra.
The haze spread as far as southern Thailand, where pollution levels were rising fast, prompting junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha to call for a regional meeting on the crisis.
“We have to talk with the countries where it ( the haze) originates,” he said.
Singapore has offered to help combat the fires, volunteering a Hercules plane and IT expertise, but Indonesia has insisted it has the equipment necessary to do the job.
Rampangilei said Indonesia had four planes on standby to conduct cloud seeding, but conditions in the past week had stymied attempts to produce artificial rain.
Efforts by more than a dozen helicopters to water-bomb hot spots have several times been thwarted by thick smoke, he added.
Rampangilei said more troops and police would be deployed to fight the fires, joining more than 20,000 personnel already battling the blazes, although he did not say how many reinforcements were to be sent.
The haze has had a devastating impact on people’s health in Indonesia, and more than 140,000 people have reported respiratory infections in smogchoked areas.