Riau Schools Close Due to Haze
Several schools in Riau were forced to close on Thursday as pollution from nearby forest fires and hotspots continued to shroud much of the province in haze, but rains in the morning gave some hope to residents that the worst was behind them, officials said.
“Students are studying at home until further notice,” Aries Rozie, spokesman for the mayor of Pekanbaru, told the local newspaper Riau Pos.
Forestry Ministry spokesman Sumarto told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday afternoon that the situation in Riau had improved compared with earlier this week, when Singapore’s Environment Minister pointed to a high number of hotspots over Sumatra — characterizing the situation as “an exercise in frustration.”
Some schools remained open in Riau on Thursday in areas where pollution was less serious, but an elementary school student in Bandar Petalangan district collapsed in class.
“She might have inhaled the haze this morning,” Abdul Manan, principal of the SD 01 Bandar Petalangan, told the local news portal Riau Terkini. The student was taken to hospital before being sent home.
Dozens of her fellow students complained of similar symptoms, forcing teachers to close the school later in the day. Data from the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) show 26,425 people diagnosed with upper-respiratory-tract infection since Aug. 6. BPBD numbers also show 1,020 people with eye problems, 1,402 people with skin irritation, 974 people with asthma and 1,216 people with pneumonia.
A local resident said the haze had improved compared to conditions on Monday.
“Fortunately it was raining this morning so the haze was getting a little better,” Renny Trisnawati, a 24-year-old Pekanbaru resident, told the Jakarta Globe.
Renny said health officials had been distributing face masks to road users.
“It was really dark in the past three days because of the smog, I had a serious cough and my chest felt tight after riding my motorcycle without a mask,” she said. “We have to wear the mask even inside the office because the smoke gets inside.”
The Center of Sumatra Ecoregion Management (PPES) said pollution levels in some parts of the island were still worrying.
“In Pangkalan Kerinci, the Air Pollutant Index is 222, which is [classified as] very unhealthy,” the head of PPES Ilham Malik said, as quoted by Riau Pos. “But it has not reached the hazardous level above 300.”
“This morning, the air was quite clear in Pekanbaru,” said Kemal Amas, head of Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA). “But in the afternoon, the haze was thicker. It is worst in three regions with the most hotspots: Pelalawan, Indragiri Hulu and Sampar.
People in Riau were advised to stay inside when possible.
“People are advised to reduce outdoor activities because the air pollution has reached alarming levels,” Dewani, an official at the Riau Health Agency, said as quoted by the state-run Antara News Agency.
Forestry Ministry spokesman Sumarto said the number of hotspots had declined to four at 6 p.m. on Thursday.