Indonesia: Hundreds of people affected by acute haze-related illnesses

Around 132 patients have been diagnosed with ISPA, four residents had asthma relapses,12 people had pneumonia and one person had severe eye infection

Several people are suffering from severe respiratory diseases after thick smoke from the peat fire completely shrouded Riau province. Residents of Bengkalis Regency are the worst hit as they fall victim to acute respiratory infections (ISPA), said local authorities.

According to The Jakarta Post, Jon Kenedy, the Riau Health Agency's health crisis control unit head, said that health institutions in Bengkalis have reported at least 149 cases of haze-related diseases. Around 132 patients have been diagnosed with ISPA, four residents had asthma relapses,12 people had pneumonia and one person had severe eye infection, he added.

"As of today, only the Bengkalis Health Agency has sent data on residents affected by haze-related health problems although other areas have also been heavily exposed to smoke from land and forest fires," Jon said, according to the news agency.

Authorities are organizing regular health camps and distributing masks to prevent the situation from worsening further. "We are also routinely carrying out health check-ups on land and forest fire extinguishing personnel because they are really prone to smoke-related illnesses," said Jon.

August 26, the Disaster Mitigation Agency declared emergency in six provinces in Indonesia. Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar in an official statement said that government is trying its best to tackle the haze.

The haze has spread to neighbouring countries like Singapore and Malaysia. On August 19, Malaysia experienced severe haze. Cities in the country had recorded moderate to high API (air pollutant index) readings.

Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, The Natural Resources and Environment Minister, said that the forest fire in Indonesia's Kalimantan and Sumatra is the reason for the haze. He also said that he will be informing the neighbouring country about the environmental hazard.

"We don't want to pick a fight but we just want to notify them that the haze is back," he said, as reported by The Straits Times.

On August 26, Singaporeans posted on social media photos of the hazy Singapore skyline as they detected burning smell in parts of the nation. According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), as at 10 am (Singapore local time), the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was 51-62 in the moderate level.

However, the air quality improved as the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) returned to the moderate range at 70-100 on Sunday, two days after the severe haze crisis.

The haze has become a persisting problem in Indonesia and is generally caused by the illegal slash-and-burn cultivation widely practiced in Indonesia.