Indonesian President, Joko Widodo called for strong action on Monday against anyone caught lighting fires to clear forested land. As a worsening haze blanketed the north of the country and the neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia.
Although Southeast Asia has annual bouts of smog, which is caused by slash-and-burn practices that have been going on for years in Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan islands, the governments have failed to address the problem in the region.
Due to poor visibility, schools were closed in several states and some flights were delayed in Malaysia on Tuesday. The haze can be harmful for the eyes and the throat and also cause respiratory problems, because air quality dips to ‘’unhealthy levels’’.
This year, because of the effects of the El Nino weather phenomena, the fires have been strengthened during a prolonged dry season in Indonesia, which has parched the top soil and fuelled the flames.
The President of Indonesia, who was on an official visit to the Middle East, gave instructions to the security forces on Monday to extinguish the fires quickly.
"I have asked authorities to take strict legal action against those responsible for the forest fires, including revoking their land permits," Widodo said in a statement.
Indonesian police have identified over 100 people as suspects in slash-and-burn cases in Sumatra and Kalimantan, according to local media.
Smog is caused by firms and small-holder farmers clearing land near existing concessions for palm or pulp and paper. Leading plantation companies have been criticised by green groups for not doing enough to stop the haze and the rampant deforestation of Indonesia.
Indonesia has decided to release the names of the companies which may be responsible for causing the fires once the information has been verified, said Singapore’s Environment Minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar on Monday.
A government official said, 26,000 thousand people are suffering from acute respiratory infections in Indonesia's Riau province alone.
A state of emergency has been declared in Riau and Central Kalimantan provinces.
The Pollutant Standards Index's (PSI) air quality index hit a ‘’dangerous’’ high of 984 in the Riau and Central Kalimantan provinces.
Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency, has said it had sent in extra helicopters to water-bomb the affected areas and has deployed hundreds of military troops to fight the fires.