Indonesia sends 21,000 to fight fires
Indonesia deployed as many as 21,000 personnel to the northern islands to fight fires which have spread haze to neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia. Heavy smoke came from Sumatra and Kalimantan regions where palm oil companies have large forest concessions. All Indonesian efforts to control the haze have failed. The region has been blanketed in haze pushing the pollution levels beyond normal.
The first instance of the annual Southeast Asian haze (that the Indonesian haze came to be called) occurred during the second half of 1997.
The main cause of the fires in the Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo is the quick and cheap clearance of land by burning of forests to get land for palm vegetation. With the rising demand for palm oil, the plantations have expanded giving rise to greater fires. The El nino weather makes the land drier making the fire spread larger distances.
The haze because of the fire has hazardous impact with thousands of people having contracted respiratory illnesses. Many flights too are expected to get cancelled and Indonesian schools too were closed. The smog which had blown over Southeast Asia also threatened to "foul the air in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia." In the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and its neighbouring states too experienced school lockdown.
Executives from 7 companies that used illegal 'slash-and-burn' methods to clear vegetation for palm plantations were arrested in Indonesia for causing air pollution in the region. Those arrested may face fine and imprisonment up to 15 years. However, the government was carrying out these arrests sparingly. A state of emergency had been declared by Indonesia in Riau province, and nearby countries which were affected.
The Indonesian government initiated a probe into 200 palm oil producing companies with regard to the haze crisis; however it took legal action against only 4.
Indonesia was reprimanded by global leadership for turning down the proposals of assistance from Singapore, even as it grappled to contain fires that had been fueled by the prolonged dry season. Vice President Jusuf Kalla had earlier said that Indonesia had ample resources to handle the crisis. However, this week he changed his stance and said that "Indonesia was open to foreign assistance".