JAKARTA Feb 27 Indonesia's Riau province
declared a state of emergency on Thursday as haze from raging
forest fires, often deliberately set, disrupted flights and
marine navigation and authorities reported a sharp rise in
The national disaster mitigation agency said the province of
5 million, a major palm oil growing region, had been
experiencing haze for several weeks due to illegal land clearing
and prolonged dry weather.
"According to the data we have, the fires have gotten worse
and need to be extinguished with water-bombing planes and we are
ready to do that," Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the
disaster mitigation agency, said in a text message.
Reuters TV images showed smoke rising from swathes of
burning land as firefighters struggled to contain the blazes,
complaining of limited equipment and water supplies.
Provincial authorities handed out masks and urged residents
to stay indoors.
"The situation is worrying...because we have seen an
increase in cases of respiratory problems from 5,000 in January
to 22,000," Zainal Arifin, head of the provincial health
department, told reporters.
Several flights were cancelled or diverted from airports in
Riau as visibility dropped to less than 1 km (half a mile), the
disaster mitigation agency said.
The Indonesian Palm Oil Association told Reuters that haze
had caused delays to shipments from airports and ports in
neighbouring North Sumatra province, but give no details.
Haze is a recurring problem for Indonesia and its
neighbours, often caused by farmers and companies burning
forests to make way for palm oil plantations.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had to apologise to
neighbours Singapore and Malaysia in mid-2013, when those
countries were blanketed with thick smog from forest fires in
Analysts estimated last year that Singapore faced nearly $1
billion in financial losses in what was Southeast Asia's worst
air pollution crisis in 16 years.
The Indonesian meteorology agency said winds were moving in
a southwesterly direction, away from Singapore. But a shift in
wind direction, which usually occurs near the end of the
Indonesian monsoon season in April or May, could affect the
Police arrested 26 people last week in connection with fires
and illegal land clearing, which have affected about 2,000
hectares (5,000 acres) of land.
(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor and Yayat Supriatna, Editing by