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Haze compensation details unclear as help arrives in Sumatra

  • Details on Indonesia’s plans to compensate low-income families affected by the haze remain unclear.
  • Joko Widodo arrived in Riau a day after cancelling his trip to the region.
  • Another Indonesian politician called for the president to announce a national disaster.

President Joko Widodo visited a health center in the haze-hit province of Riau on Friday, as medical workers diagnosed more cases of respiratory diseases across the archipelago and Indonesia’s neighbors sent aircraft to join the firefighting effort in southern Sumatra.

Indonesia’s meteorology agency counted 414 hotspots in Sumatra at 5 a.m. on Friday, up from 202 hotspots at Thursday 5 a.m. Health workers in Jambi continued to adjust to medical facilities being required to open 24 hours to treat the sick, while the local office of the Religious Affairs Ministry was preparing to reroute more than 2,000 Jambi residents returning from the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

A mother of a three-year-old daughter wrote an open letter to Jokowi in Republika today, the newspaper that hazed out its front page on Thursday. Afni Zulkifli, from an area just north of Pekanbaru in Riau, says government negligence in tackling a problem stretching back almost two decades was tantamount to genocide.

In Jakarta, some Indonesian politicians continued to express confusion over why the catastrophic agricultural fires had yet to be declared a national emergency.

“If it is declared a national disaster full-scale efforts can be launched to deal with the situation,” Hidayat Nur Wahid, the vice chairman of Indonesia’s lower parliament, told state news agency Antara. “People are putting up posters; doesn’t the president see them?”

Indonesia’s antigraft agency believes illegal deforestation cost around $90 billion over the last decade as peatland fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra continued to pose fatal risks to tens of thousands.

“It could be more,” Dian Patria, group head of corruption prevention for natural resources at the KPK, told Reuters. “These are quite conservative figures.”

The Corruption Eradication Commission report will be delivered to minsters Friday, Reuters reported. It will likely add to the pressure on Jokowi, who Thursday asked five countries for fire-fighting assistance.

Australian Associated Press reported Friday that Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry hoped a 10,000-liter water-bombing aircraft would arrive from Australia as early as Saturday. A Singaporean team arrived in Indonesia on Friday, while Tempo reported Malaysia had sent a Bombardier aircraft to join the firefighting effort in South Sumatra. China, Russia and South Korea have also been approached for help.

“[Aid from] other countries will probably start coming on Sunday,” Jokowi said.

The president’s visit to Riau came a day after he was forced to cancel a planned trip because of low visibility at the region’s airports. Indonesian newspaper Tribun reported that Jokowi was asked for clarification on government plans to compensate victims.

“I will have to check first,” the president said. 

Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa told reporters earlier this week that the government was in the process of counting the number of victims prior to releasing money from a state assurance fund. Indonesian media reported only low-income families would be eligible for the payments, understood to be 900,000 ($67) rupiah per family.

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