Angered by slow response, civilians take fight against haze into their own hands
PALANGKARAYA, Indonesia: Desperate civilians at the epicenter of Indonesia’s haze crisis are taking the fight into the own hands, using whatever meager resources they have to confront the fires ravaging their communities as they tire of waiting for the government to take action.
Wearing an oversized T-shirt and ill-fitting rubber boots, 13-year-old Yosua Oktavianus assisted his father douse a fire burning outside their hometown in Borneo as acrid smoke belched from the scorched earth.
“I just want to help my dad,” he told AFP near Palangkaraya, a city of 240,000 where respiratory illnesses have soared as the smog has worsened in recent weeks.
Communities worst exposed to the toxic smog are becoming increasingly frustrated at authorities in Jakarta, insisting not enough is being done to aid their plight.
The government has launched water-bombing raids dumping water over blazes on Borneo and neighboring Sumatra but has failed so far to bring thousands of fires under control.
It has also sent warships to Kalimantan — Indonesia’s half of Borneo island — in case large-scale evacuations are needed, but many on the ground are choosing to fight not flee, using wooden sticks, pails of water and anything else on hand to douse the flames.
‘Fed up of waiting’
After watching children and the elderly in his hometown fall sick under the pall of haze — just some of the estimated half a million people who have suffered respiratory illnesses since the fires started in July — 20-year-old Fery Auyadi decided enough was enough.
Banding together with his friends, the college students pooled their resources and collected donations for supplies before heading to the fire front.
“My friends and I were fed up of waiting for the government to act,” he told AFP, dripping in sweat and mud as he battled a blaze outside Palangkaraya.
“It is now everybody’s fight.”
Another team in the area responded to reports of new fires and set off in pickup trucks, passing through a ruined, smoking landscape of charred earth and smoldering tree stumps.
The team scrambled to find water, a scarce resource on these tinder-dry peatlands, until a well was found at a nearby construction site.