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Jokowi calls in army to help fight haze-causing Indonesian fires

Bloomberg News - October 8, 2023

Jakarta – Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he has ordered the military and police to tackle forest fires after neighbouring countries complained that smoke from the burning was making the air unhealthy.

"When there is fire, there will be smoke, and if there is wind, it can get anywhere," Mr Widodo, also known as Jokowi, told reporters in Jakarta on Saturday.

"I have ordered the military chief and the police to handle every hot spot, however small, immediately."

Singapore and Malaysia have complained about the spread of choking haze from the fires.

Singapore's 24-hour PSI air pollution readings in the centre and east of the island rose above 100 on Saturday, a level described as "unhealthy", according to the National Environment Agency website.

They dropped below 100 on Sunday.

Thirteen areas in Peninsular Malaysia recorded unhealthy air quality on Sunday with the highest reading of 163 in Melaka and Batu Pahat in Johor, according to the Air Pollutant Index of Malaysia's website.

Haze is a recurring problem in South-east Asia, disrupting tourism, causing severe respiratory illness and costing local economies billions of dollars.

It mostly originates from natural or man-made fires in Indonesia and Malaysia during the dry season.

Many of the blazes result from illegal burning to clear farmland for cash crops such as oil palm, a practice that persists despite years of government efforts to stamp it out.

Fires are often the worst at the height of the dry season in August and September, but in El Nino years, rains are often delayed, allowing the burning to spread into October and beyond.

Almost 3,000 hot spots were detected in Indonesia in mid-September, with Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo island, called Kalimantan, accounting for more than two-thirds, according to Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

"In this prolonged dry season, the heat is above normal," Mr Widodo said. "Land and forest fires don't just happen in Indonesia but also in the US, Canada. Here we can still control it better."

He said the situation is far different from the strong El Nino in 2015, when haze blanketed the region.

During that season, about 2.6 million ha burned and the haze lingered for weeks, causing more than 100,000 premature deaths, according to researchers at Harvard and Columbia universities. In the El Nino of 1997, almost twice as much land burned.

Indonesia's weather bureau has said the wet season may be delayed this year until late October or November in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and even as late as December in some parts of the country.

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/jokowi-calls-in-army-to-help-fight-haze-causing-indonesian-fire