“When there is fire, there will be smoke, and if there is wind it can get anywhere,” the president, known as Jokowi, told reporters in Jakarta on Saturday. “I have ordered the military chief and the police to handle every hotspot, however small, immediately.”
Haze is a recurring problem in Southeast Asia, disrupting tourism, causing severe respiratory illness and costing local economies billions of dollars. It mostly originates from natural or man-made fires in Indonesia and Malaysia during the dry season. Many of the blazes result from illegal burning to clear farmland for cash crops such as palm oil, a practice that persists despite years of government efforts to stamp it out.
“In this prolonged dry season, the heat is above normal,” Jokowi said. “Land and forest fires don’t just happen in Indonesia but also in the US, Canada. Here we can still control it better.” He said the situation is far different from the strong El Nino in 2015, when haze blanketed the region.
During that season, about 2.6 million hectares burned and the haze lingered for weeks, causing more than 100,000 premature deaths, according to researchers at Harvard and Columbia universities. In the El Nino of 1997, almost twice as much land burned.
Indonesia’s weather bureau has said the wet season may be delayed this year until late October or November in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and even as late as December in some parts of the country.