​Mayor of Pekanbaru orders all of the city’s babies to be evacuated to special shelter due to severe haze

A man plays badminton outside a mosque in Pekanbaru, Riau, despite the thick haze. Photo: AFP/Adek Berry.

Singapore and Malaysia are currently suffering from severe haze caused by raging forest fires taking place in the Indonesian regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan, which has led to school closures, flight cancellations and, most seriously, health damage due to incredibly high air pollution levels.

Politicians from neighboring countries are angry at the Indonesian government not doing enough to stop the the haze that is hurting their citizens. But many Indonesians are also suffering greatly from the intense pollution, not the least of which are the citizens of Pekanbaru, in Sumatra’s Riau province, where air pollution levels have been recorded at a staggering 1000 PSI (PSI levels of 300 are already considered hazardous to health)

Nobody is more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution than infants, which is why Pekanbaru Mayor Firdaus yesterday ordered that all of the city’s infants under six months of age, particularly those from poor families, be evacuated to the Mayor’s Office, where a special emergency nursery has been set up.

Firdaus said the babies of poor families were especially at risk, as their homes tended to provide little protection against the air pollution.

“That’s why we are striving to provide facilities that can maintain healthy air conditions for our babies,” he told Tempo.

The head of Pekanbaru’s Health Department, Helda S Munir, said the special infant evacuation nursery was set up in the hall of the mayor’s office since yesterday night. 

“We have rented cribs, purchased supplies of milk and baby food as well as oxygen tanks, and so we have everything necessary for the operation of the evacuation shelter,” Helda said as quoted by Republika.

The haze caused the governor of Riau, Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, announced a state of emergency in the province on Sept. 14 and deteriorating conditions have caused him to extend the emergency status for two weeks. 

The current haze crisis engulfing Southeast Asia is only the latest instance of a recurring environmental disaster caused by forest fires in Sumatra and Riau. The fires are generally thought to be started by palm oil companies, or locals hired by the palm oil companies through proxy, in order to clear land to create new plantations to grow the lucrative and increasingly in-demand commodity. The practice is illegal, but lax enforcement and corruption have allowed it to continue largely unchecked.

The Indonesian government has promised to take firm action to prevent the haze this time, but President Joko Widodo recently said that it would take at least three years to put an end to the recurring crisis.

For more information on the haze and who are the parties responsible for it, check out Coconuts TV’s documentary:


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