PALANGKA RAYA, Indonesia: Around 150 protesters, including students and activists from non-governmental organisations, held a protest at the Central Kalimantan Governor’s office on Tuesday (Sep 22), decrying government inaction against the ongoing forest fires, which has led to a thick haze that blankets parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
HAPPENING NOW: Protesters in Pangkalan Raya, Central Kalimantan, rally against government inaction in tackling ongoing forest fires. bit.ly/1NQ6pIL #HazePosted by Channel NewsAsia on Monday, September 21, 2015
"The government is not taking serious measures to solve the fires,” said Ali Wardana, one of the protest leaders. “Central Kalimantan is in a state of emergency, and people are suffering from respiratory illnesses.”
He added: “We want disaster management teams to be prepared in advance in order to safeguard people’s health. And we want sanctions against those who burn the land for profit.”
A protest leader urges the crowd on in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, over government inaction in tackling the ongoing forest fires in the region. (Photo: Kane Cunico)
Southeast Asia has for years suffered from annual bouts of haze caused by slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia's islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
The protests outside the Governor’s office included students and activists from around 10 organisations including Save Our Borneo and Walhi, an Indonesian environmental advocacy group. Many braved the acrid and stinging conditions - the PSI level in Palangka Raya hit 1,955 at 2pm on Tuesday - to vent their anger.
A hazy street in Palangka Raya, where the PSI hit 1,955 at 2pm. (Photo: Kane Cunico)
Security personnel guard the Governor's office in Palangka Raya. (Photo: Kane Cunico)
Addressing the group of about 20 security personnel guarding the gate outside the Governor's office, protesters threatened to enter the compound if the Acting Governor did not come out to meet them. A few were subsequently allowed to enter the premises.
Emmanuela Dewi Shinta, 22, from NGO Justice Peace Integrity of Creation, which fights for the rights of indigenous people. (Photo: Kane Cunico)
Some among the protesters told Channel NewsAsia they they feel the central government must do more to tackle the problem. Ms Umi Mastika, a member of the Palangka Raya city parliament, said the local government lacks the capacity to deal with these problems.
Protesters outside the Acting Governor's office in Central Kalimantan. (Photo: Kane Cunico)
"Companies keep burning the forest every year but it's time for the government not to search for who did or didn't do it, but it's time for the government to take care of the health of the cities' children and the general economy," she said.
"Compared to previous governments, the current government of Joko Widodo is not acting as quickly as the previous central governments."
NGOS PRESENT LIST OF DEMANDS
Aryo Nugroho, who works for environmental group WALHI said that Acting Governor Hadi Prabowo has told him that "he has many issues to deal with and work can't stop just to meet the protesters".
However, Mr Nugroho, said that the protesters have left a list of demands for him, which include full state responsibility to handle the situation and to stop giving licenses to the companies behind the forest fires.
Aryo Nugroho, from environmental group WALHI. (Photo: Kane Cunico)
Protesters who left the scene subsequently stationed themselves at one of Palangka Raya's busy roundabouts at Taman Pemuda handing out regular clinical masks (costing locals around US$0.07) to motorists, though many if not all protesters told Channel NewsAsia that they did not know that these masks were ineffective conditions such as these.
"No one told us," said Rinting Alfaranus, 40, a researcher who has been living in Palangka Raya since the early 1990s. "All the clinics and doctors we go to tell us it is effective. They are not?
"No one tells us what to use, and your (N95) mask is too expensive for us," he said. "The people here are poor."
Catch Get Real: Living in the Heart of the Haze on Channel NewsAsia Oct 27, 8pm.