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Kalimantan politicians wear facemasks inside parliament as Palangkaraya suffers in silence

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Hellish conditions in Central Kalimantan saw visibility dropping to as little as 20 meters in the beleaguered province.

Kalimantan politicians wear facemasks inside parliament as Palangkaraya suffers in silence
  • Indonesia's measure of pollution recorded air in Palangkarya at more than 10 times the level regarded as dangerous on Tuesday.
  • Schools in the Central Kalimantan capital were closed again on Tuesday.
  • Politicians in the provincial parliament sat in silence wearing face masks after smoke entered the building.

Further respiratory fatalities around Indonesia looked certain on Tuesday as toxic pollution from hinterland fires and underground hotspots again sent breathable air far beyond levels deemed dangerous to health.

Pollution in several cities across Indonesia was again in the worst category on Tuesday, with breathing air in Palangkaraya more than 10 times the level deemed “dangerous.”

“My eyes sting,” one Palangkaraya resident told Antara, the state news agency. “When I’m driving I’m wearing glasses and a helmet with the lid down.

“Then I’m using a face mask and handkerchiefs as extra layers – breathing still feels bad.”

One major Indonesian online news magazine simply wrote the headline “Mercy!” to accompany a piece on visibility in the city of Palangkaraya dropping to just 20 meters on Tuesday. The local XXI cinema chain was invisible from the other side of the street. Air quality in the Central Kalimantan capital was again dangerous, with more and more children entering hospital with breathing difficulties and residents posting photographs of cityscapes looking like the end of days.

An image posted onTwitter on Tuesday of the central Kalimantan capital
An image posted on Twitter on Tuesday of the Central Kalimantan capital

The smog was so pervasive in Palangkaraya on Tuesday that politicians including acting governor Hadi Prabowo wore face masks inside the Central Kalimantan parliament to debate a budget.

“We were sitting in silence,” chairman of the central Kalimantan parliament, Renhard Atu Narang, said after the meeting. “We’re using face masks. Why? Because the haze has got into the Central Kalimantan parliament.”

An image posted onTwitter on Tuesday of the central Kalimantan capital
An image on Twitter shows politicians in the Central Kalimantan parliament attending a budget session while wearing face masks.

Children in Central Kalimantan and other affected parts of the country are at risk of serious illnesses because of the sustained pollution. The new school year has also faced severe disruption. Palangkaraya mayor Riban Satia has closed schools six times in response to the smoke – five out of the last seven weeks.

“We are currently preparing a system so children can catch up,” said Norma Hikmah, the head of the city’s education department. “The options are to cancel the mid-term holiday and postpone the mid-term test.”

Smoke continued to rise from peatlands across Kalimantan and Sumatra on Tuesday, with Indonesian disaster management, military and private-sector firefighters overwhelmed by the scale of the task at hand. International efforts to throw air assets at the problem, led by water-bombing sorties from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, have also had only a marginal effect.

A spokesman from Indonesia’s disaster management agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said on Tuesday he was seeing fires on municipal border areas because of “weak supervision.” Images of peat swamps in the Pelawan area of Riau province were circulated amid social media posts of people in hospital beds with respiratory diseases.

In Jakarta, Mongabay reports Indonesian environment minister Siti Nurbaya has issued 10 companies with sanctions for their roles in forest fires. Malaysia’s environment minister said Tuesday only rain could extinguish the fires.

“Unless there is rain, there is no way human intervention can put out the fires,” Wan Juniai told Agence France-Presse.

An image posted onTwitter on Tuesday of the central Kalimantan capital
An image posted on Twitter on Tuesday shows Palangkaraya at 2:47 p.m. local time.

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