State of emergency declared in Indonesia's Riau as forest fires worsen

State of emergency declared in Indonesia's Riau as forest fires worsen

The worsening air quality in Riau province in Sumatra prompted the Indonesian government to declare a state of emergency.

Sumatra fire
File photo of a forest fire in Sumatra. (Photo: AP) 

JAKARTA: Indonesia declared a state of emergency in Sumatra’s Riau province after forest fires put its air quality at a dangerous level.

The worsening situation in Sumatra, west of Java, prompted the Indonesian military to step up efforts to extinguish the fires and assist residents facing health issues caused by the smoke.

An assessment is being made to determine if more troops should be deployed, Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told Channel NewsAsia.

The government is serious about putting out the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan but it would take up to three weeks, she added.

"In South Sumatra, visibility is not a problem. Aircraft can still operate. In Jambi, the situation is fluctuating. The big fire in Jambi was put out last Saturday," Ms Nurbaya said.

An aerial view of a burning forest at Ogan Komering Ulu area in Indonesia's south Sumatra prov

A burning forest at Ogan Komering Ulu area in Indonesia's south Sumatra province. (Photo: REUTERS/Beawiharta)

So far, 1,050 soldiers have been deployed in south Sumatra, one of the main centres of the fires. If necessary, Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) would also send in additional helicopters to help water-bomb fires.

"We have mobilised national resources to put out the fires," newly appointed BNPB chief Willem Rampangilei said in a press release.

South Sumatra has alone reported 22,585 cases of acute respiratory tract infections since Friday.

Early on Friday, Singapore's Pollutants Standard Index rose to 248, which categorizes the air as "very unhealthy", or one level below the index's highest air pollution category of "hazardous".

Singapore haze 12092015 (1)

Hazy sky in Singapore. (Photo: Alvin Chong/CNA)

According to Ms Nurbaya, her Singaporean counterpart has been in touch to find out if any Singapore-linked companies were involved in the fires, given that many firms are located in the province.

"He asked if he could have the names of companies, especially those linked to Singapore, be them investors, shareholders or management," she said, adding the Singaporean minister "requested Indonesia to do its best".

"We've deployed soldiers. We've conducted water bombing in Riau with 18 million litres of water, in South Sumatra and Jambi, with 12 million litres of water, cloud-seeding in Riau with 120 tonnes of salt and 56 tonnes of salt in South Sumatra. We've done everything," Mr Nurbaya explained.

The minister said she is still studying the data before revealing some Malaysian companies were involved in the fires in South Sumatra and Jambi.

Source: CNA/Reuters/pp