Dozens hospitalized in Indonesia as thick haze spreads

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MEULABOH, Indonesia: Young children lie in hospital in Aceh province, Indonesia, as thick smoke caused by forest fires forces dozens of people to be treated for lung infections.

Some schoolchildren were still able to go to school in Meulaboh Wednesday wearing masks but several schools suspended classes so students could stay at home.

In the past week, about 35 hotspots—concentrations of fires—have destroyed 70 hectares (0.27 square miles) of forests and other land in Aceh, the national disaster agency said.

“The land fires have been caused by people who clear their land by the traditional slash and burn method, so the fire spreads,” national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purno Nugroho said.


People are advised to monitor their land and not to slash and burn, especially since the current dry season makes it easy for forest fires to escalate, Nugroho added.

Authorities are trying to put out the blazes and have warned of an escalating threat of forest fires with the dry season expected to continue for several months.

The haze is an annual problem in Indonesia caused by fires set in forest and on carbon-rich peatland in Indonesia to clear land for palm oil and pulpwood plantations.

The blazes occur mainly on Indonesia’s Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo, with monsoon winds typically blowing the haze over nearby Singapore and Malaysia.

There are currently about 180 hotspots in Indonesia over about six provinces, but the number is significantly lower than in 2015 when haze cloaked large parts of the region causing huge numbers to fall ill and sending diplomatic tensions soaring.

Last year, researchers from Harvard and Columbia universities in the United States estimated that the 2015 smog outbreak may have caused over 100,000 premature deaths. AFP

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