A child offers face masks to people along a haze shrouded street in Palembang, South Sumatra. (Reuters/Beawiharta)

S. Sumatra Governor Apologizes for Haze


OCTOBER 09, 2015

Jakarta. South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin has apologized for the relentless spread of thick haze caused by wildfires across the province, which has disrupted his region as well as neighboring provinces and countries.

"As the governor, [I am] most responsible [for the haze] in South Sumatra," he said in the provincial capital of Palembang on Friday, as quoted by news portal Detik.com.

The province is among Sumatra's hardest-hit regions by the smog, which has depleted visibility range to as low as 200 meters on Wednesday.

Data from Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) recorded Palembang's air pollution index at 527 as of Friday at 9 a.m., a significant drop from 1,585 on Sept. 24.

Any index reading above 350 is considered hazardous.

The situation in South Sumatra, which has declared a state of emergency along with other haze-hit provinces Riau, Jambi, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan, escalated when a 28-day-old baby named Husien Saputra died on Wednesday from an acute respiratory ailment  believed to have been caused by the smog.

Alex also extended his apologies to the governments of neighboring countries Malaysia and Singapore, where dense haze forced schools to shut down for several days.

"We're very sorry. We never had any intention to send the smoke to other areas, but winds carried [the haze] to the north," he said.

"Let's all focus on extinguishing the fires and attend to the haze situation in our region," he added.

The government has deployed over 22,000 soldiers, policemen and firefighting personnel to extinguish the fires, while also sending planes to conduct water-bombing and cloud seeding operations.

More than 6,000 officers are expected to be deployed soon.

Indonesia finally accepted foreign aid on Thursday in the form of water bombing planes from Singapore, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Australia and China.

The Health Ministry has also shipped more than one million face masks and 5,200 N95 respirators to areas worst hit by haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan, where a majority of the fires came from burning peatlands and forests to make way for palm oil plantation.

Indonesian farmers have used the slash-and-burn technique to clear land for decades as it is estimated to cost five times less than the safer method of using heavy machinery.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry has revoked four operating permits of companies found guilty for burning lands, with 30 more logging and palm-oil firms expected to face similar punishments.

The government will also place those companies on its blacklist, which the ministry expects will be completed in December.

Environmental group Greenpeace estimated that the amount of carbon emitted from haze in 2015 might exceed that of 1997, when Indonesia produced between 0.81 and 2.57 gigatons of the pollutant, equivalent to 13-40 percent of the entire world's annual fossil fuel emissions.

Indonesia, which has pledged a 29 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, will likely be in the spotlight at the UN's climate change conference in Paris in December.