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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 6, 2015:

As the haze situation in the region worsens, it is just as bad, if not worse for residents in south Sumatra, namely Palembang, Riau, Pekan Baru, Duri and Bangkinang, as well as Medan, Padang and Kalimantan.

According to an Indonesian official at the Pekan Baru district communication department in Sumatra, Ridwan Azzuhri, quite a number of government offices had been forced to close for two weeks since last Monday.

“Many working in the government sector were given up to two weeks off.

“School children in primary and secondary schools were given one month off,” he said when contacted by The Rakyat Post.

He added that district governments also advised those working in the private sector to close businesses and limit outdoor activities.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) in Pekan Baru, which recorded hazardous levels reaching up to 335, forced the Sultan Syarif Kasim II airport to be closed.

Rio Rahmanwan, a banker in Padang, said the haze in the area was so critical that visibility was reduced to only a few metres.

“Visibility in the streets of Padang is around 50 metres; the worse is 20 metres around 7.30am till 8.30am though it improves in the afternoon.”

He suggested that the Indonesian government establish a special task force to combat and prevent open burning around Sumatra and Kalimantan as the haze was becoming an annual occurrence.

“While there is a department that handles the health and wellbeing of the public, natural disaster such as the haze must be resolved with more effective measures as it seems like the conditions this year are the worst in history.”

The haze has also impacted the tourism industry in Medan, northern Sumatra, said local guide Juliana Julfikar.

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Picture by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre indicating the hot spots showing fires in Sumatra, Kalimantan and other parts of Indonesia causing the haze.

She said the number of tourists in the area had dwindled as she was barely able to make ends meet.

“Haze in Indonesia isn’t something new. It happens every year. with cases of forest fires and clearing of forests to make way for farms … another factor is the drought and less rain in Sumatra.”

She said the blame could not be put solely on the government alone as farmers and irresponsible people were at fault for causing such a disastrous situation.

Juliana hoped that immediate action would be taken as the haze affected the livelihood of many people.

“The tourism sector is tied to commerce here in Medan. If tourist arrivals are hit, it affects the local economy badly.”

Referring to reports issued by the Pekan Baru Meteorology and Geophysics Station in Palembang, the API level there was 226. It was 226 in Jambi and 335 in Pekan Baru.

On Monday morning, more than 1,199 hot spots were charted in Sumatran islands, six of them in Riau.

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