Thu, Oct 29, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Indonesia haze death toll rises to 19

EL NINO EFFECT:Indonesian Minister of Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan said that the national weather bureau failed to predict the severity of weather conditions


Volunteers extinguish a peatland fire on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, Indonesia, on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

The death toll from acrid haze blanketing parts of Indonesia has climbed to 19, almost double the previous figure, as the crisis from widespread forest fires worsens, Indonesian Minister of Social Affairs Khofifah Parawansa said yesterday.

For nearly two months, thousands of fires caused by slash-and-burn farming in Indonesia have choked vast expanses of Southeast Asia, forcing schools to close and scores of flights and some international events to be canceled.

An estimated 500,000 people have suffered respiratory illnesses since the fires started in July. Indonesia’s disaster agency previously stated the fires had killed 10 people, some of whom died while fighting the blazes and others from the pollution.

However, Parawansa confirmed that the death toll had risen.

“As of this morning, there are 19 people who have died from the effects of haze,” Parawansa told reporters in Jakarta.

The victims were all from Sumatra and Kalimantan — Indonesia’s half of Borneo Island — where fires have been deliberately lit by farmers wanting to quickly and cheaply clear land.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo plans to tour the worst-hit regions later this week, having cut short his visit to the US to deal with the crisis.

Three warships are on standby in Kalimantan in case a large-scale evacuation is needed, with temporary shelters being rapidly built to house those fleeing the toxic smog.

Experts warn the current outbreak is on track to become the worst ever, exacerbated by bone-dry conditions caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Indonesian Minister of Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan yesterday said that the national weather bureau had failed to predict this year’s El Nino would be more severe than 1997, when out-of-control fires sent pollution soaring to record highs in an unprecedented environmental disaster.

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