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Indonesia readies shelter ships as haze last resort after #EvacuateUs hits Twitter

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Toxic smoke from wildfires and underground hotspots has reached new levels of intensity, furthering a crisis in the region.

Indonesia readies shelter ships as haze last resort after #EvacuateUs hits Twitter
  • #EvakuasiKami, or EvacuateUs, is the latest haze-related to topic to trend on Indonesian Twitter amid the country's haze crisis.
  • Pekanbaru has reopened shelters in the city in a desperate bid to provide some respite from the smoke.
  • Local officials are specifically calling on parents to bring infants and young children to three 24-hour centers in Riau province..

Indonesia was preparing to second military ships and vessels from the state ferry company on Thursday to evacuate haze-hit residents as a last resort to the devastating smoke emanating from wildfires and underground hotspots in the country. The announcement by a key minister came after people across the archipelago took to Twitter imploring the government for more action.

The proliferation of the hashtag #EvakuasiKami on Twitter follows #MelawanAsap (FightSmoke) and #RevolusiLangitBiru (BlueSkyRevolution). Both became trending topics on Twitter earlier this month as poisonous smog descended on Indonesian cities.

“We have the possibility of utilizing military or Pelni [the state-owned ferry company] ships for the next four to five weeks for the next month or five weeks,” said Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan.

Luhut said Jokowi had issued a presidential instruction to ramp up the government response. The minister said this would include the education and communication ministries working on education programs and the agriculture ministry storing additional foodstuffs to guard against shortages.

“President Joko Widodo has asked that all available resources are deployed to minimize the humanitarian impact,” he said, adding that Indonesia would accept offers of help from any country.

A girl in Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan, holds up a sign asking President Jokowi to evacuate area residents from the haze-hit region. Much of Sumatra and Kalimantan have been submerged in toxic smoke from out-of-control wildfires and underground hotspots as a result of unchecked land clearing for agriculture and the year's extended dry season due to El Niño. Photo courtesy of the @twt_marathon Twitter account.
A girl in Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan, holds up a sign asking President Jokowi to evacuate residents from the haze-hit region. Much of Sumatra and Kalimantan have been submerged in toxic smoke from out-of-control wildfires and underground hotspots as a result of unchecked land clearing for agriculture and the year’s extended dry season due to El Niño. Photo courtesy of @twt_marathon

Newspaper Tribun reports residents in the Central Kalimantan capital Palangkaraya, which has seen the worst conditions in the country, are fleeing to East Kalimantan, while the BBC has a profile of photographer Bjorn Vaughn, who has taken some extraordinary images of the crisis. 

The deterioration in breathable air has forced officials in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, to reopen shelters in the city in a desperate bid to provide some respite from the smoke. The government has designated three health centers to serve as temporary shelters.

“The air pollution at the moment is extraordinary,” the head of Riau’s health office told Indonesian news outlet Tempo.

Local officials are specifically calling on parents to bring infants and young children to three 24-hour centers in the province. Riau chief medical officer Helda Suryani Munir told Tempo on Thursday that two rooms in the mayor’s office had been allocated for residents but only seven families had taken shelter there since the government made them available.

In Central Kalimantan, Rebecca Henschke reports for the BBC on the threat to the province’s orangutans.

Prevailing winds eased air quality in Singapore on Thursday, with the city state’s measure of air pollution returning to “moderate” levels. However, Thailand recorded “unhealthy” air in seven provinces on Thursday, with the southern region of Songkhla particularly affected.

“It’s considered a crisis. It’s the worst in 10 years,” Halem Jemarican, head of the Environment Office in Songkhla province, told Agence France-Presse.

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