Palangkaraya. The haze from ground and forest fires that have blanketed the capital of Central Kalimantan for days has thickened, constraining visibility and causing hazardous air pollution, residents said on Tuesday.
Visibility in Palangkaraya was as little as 15 meters in the morning and equipment to measure the air pollution index was no longer functioning, residents said.
Deli, 42, a resident of Jalan Georgi Obos, said the broken equipment was an indication to the local population that air pollution level had reached dangerous levels.
He noted that the public display of the index had become difficult to see because of the profusion of billboards and banners in the area.
“Maybe it is because the equipment is not functioning that it is being intentionally hidden from sight behind those large banners,” said Wardi, who lives on Jalan Yos Sudarso.
Both Deli and Wardi said they hoped the equipment would be repaired so that the public could know the level of pollution and act accordingly.
According to satellite images issued on the weekend, there were 868 hotspots in the province. Hotspots are areas of high temperatures indicating possible ground or forest fires.
The hotspots were detected in eight districts of Central Kalimantan: Lamandau, Seruyan, Kapuas, Murung Raya, Katingan, Gunung Mas, East Kotawaringin and Pulang Pisau.
The smog has curtailed visibility in the air during the day to only 2,000 meters, threatening the safety of flights taking off and landing at Tjilik Riwut Airport in Palangkaraya.
“We are asking the health office, the environment office, the education office and other institutions to prepare steps to take if the conditions worsen in the near future,” Palangkaraya Mayor H.M. Riban Satia said. “The smoke is starting to thicken in our region.”
He said the choking haze was increasingly presenting traffic and health concerns, with the elderly and children most prone to respiratory problems because of the smoke.
“Launch early anticipatory measures before the smoke from these ground fires endangers the population,” Riban said.
He also asked the head of the health office to conduct a registration of patients suffering from respiratory ailments to see whether there is a notable increase so that appropriate measures can be taken.
Officials have blamed the fires on the use of fire for land clearing, a practice that is outlawed but difficult to enforce.
Forest fires have become a annual occurrence during the dry season, which has a couple of months to run.