The number of Indonesians suffering respiratory problems caused by smoke from forest and peatland fires blanketing parts of Borneo and Sumatra in the past few months has nearly reached 900,000, according to the authorities. Data released late Friday by the Crisis Mitigation Centre of the Ministry of Health showed that a total of 885,026 people have been suffering from acute respiratory infections. Of the total, 291,807 cases were recorded in South Sumatra province and 268,591 cases in Riau province, both in Sumatra, followed by West Kalimantan province on Borneo with 163,662 cases.
The haze has impacted air quality not only in Indonesia but also in Malaysia, Singapore and as far as Thailand and the Philippines. The smog has forced Indonesia and Malaysia to close thousands of schools, with hundreds of Malaysian flights also being cancelled. Meanwhile, an operation to put out the fires with water bombing and cloud seeding is underway involving almost 30,000 personnel and over 50 helicopters.
Forest and peatland fires in Indonesia are most frequent between April and October, mostly due to slash-and-burn farming practices. Despite the seriousness of the haze problem this year, Indonesia is still unwilling to accept help offers from neighbouring countries. In its Saturday editorial, the English-language Jakarta Post criticized the government for insisting on handling the problem on its own. "Optimism that we can contain the fires ourselves does not help while children suffer even more from the effect of toxic pollutants compared with adults," it said. "We need all the help we can get. Now."