Conservation news

Indonesia hesitates on emergency status for haze; Islamic council sees ‘warning from God’

  • Local police arrested five men in semi-remote parts of Central Kalimantan on suspicion of using gasoline to start fires.
  • The spokesman of Indonesia’s disaster agency said he thought fires in Papua were started deliberately to clear land.
  • The highest clerical body in Muslim-majority Indonesia called on adherents of the faith to pray and said the fires could be a warning from God.

Singapore’s main state newspaper wrote on Friday that a “humanitarian crisis looms” in Indonesia, but the minister in charge of the archipelago’s humanitarian and firefighting operation said the government had not declared a national emergency because of “legal issues.”

“We don’t want to talk about a national disaster because doing so involves legal difficulties,” said Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for home and security affairs. “But we can still make sure we go ‘all out’ and mobilize all our resources consistent with the order from President Joko Widodo.”

The government now plans to review again whether to announce the haze as a national emergency. Luhut’s comments come a day after he said preparations were being made to use military and state-owned ferries to evacuate families with young children to less-polluted areas.

Air assets from Russia have joined the international effort to drop water on fires and hotspots. Indonesia said it would seek additional assistance from Canada, France and the U.S.

Flights faced widespread disruption across the archipelago again on Friday as low visibility in some cities on Java island, including the capital Jakarta, led to speculation smoke from fires had reached the country’s most-populated island. In Sumatra, hundreds of teachers took to the streets of the Riau provincial capital Pekanbaru on Friday afternoon to pressure the government into greater action. The teachers rallied under the banner of the Pekanbaru Teachers’ Forum for Haze Resistance.

An image on Twitter shows the aftermath of a fire.

Indonesia’s state news agency Antara reported police in Central Kalimantan have arrested five people on suspicion of starting forest fires west of Sebangau National Park.

“I have stressed that perpetrators burning land must be arrested,” said Kotawaringin East police chief Hendra Wawarin in Sampit, Central Kalimantan.

Dul, 80; Kod, 66; Kos, 55 and 48-year-old A.M were arrested by the local police operation. It is common for Indonesians to have only one name, or for police to identify some suspects by only their initials. Police told the state news agency they had found evidence including gasoline and lighters.

Residents continued to breath in dangerously polluted air  in the provincial capital Palangkaraya. The city’s chief medical officer said overstretched health services have diagnosed 5,931 people with acute respiratory infections since July, roughly 3 percent of the 230,000 population. The number is likely an underestimate of those affected by respiratory diseases. Schools have been closed in Palangakaraya for five of the last seven weeks, but Education Minister Anies Baswedan was forced to intervene this week on hearing that some schools in affected parts of the country had stayed open because of mid-term tests.

“Don’t prioritize education over health,” the minister said.

Meanwhile the chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), the country’s highest clerical body, called on Muslims to pray for rain.

“The prolonged dry season that is happening in our country might be a warning from God,” said MUI chairman Maruf Amin.

An image on Twitter shows two men from Pekanbaru driving through the haze.

Image credit for header photograph of peat fires: Bjorn Vaughn