As the forest fires in Indonesia continue unabated, the country’s government says it is considering declaring a state of “national emergency” because of it.
“The problem is too big,” Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla told Reuters on Tuesday.
The worsening conditions have also prompted President Joko Widodo to cut short his trip to the United States (US) and to return to the country.
Mr Widodo is reported to be considering the emergency declaration and will make his decision after he has returned from the US.
Last week, the Indonesian coordinating security minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, was reported to have said that the country was “preparing warships as a last resort to evacuate children and others suffering from smoke inhalation from slash-and-burn fires.” (See here.)
“We are looking for a place for babies to be evacuated to if necessary,” Mr Luhut said.
However, the government also said that the use of warships to evacuate residents will only be used as a last resort.
In the latest of the annual transnational nuisance, five countries in Southeast Asia have been affected – namely Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
The haze has forced the closure of schools and airports in these countries, and in Indonesia itself, a reported 12,000 people have sought medical attention because of the haze.
Several countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Russia, have sent help to put out the fires. The Indonesian government has also sought help from Canada, the US and France.
“Mr Widodo said no new permits would be given to plantation companies to develop peatland and that the government would work to restore and re-irrigate drained peatland areas that are often hit by fires,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported last week.
“This situation is having a major impact and has reached very unhealthy levels,” Mr Widodo said, referring to thousands of fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Garuda, the Indonesian carrier, said the haze had cost the airline about $8 million in lost sales and other expenses, with 120,000 passengers cancelling flights last month alone.
In Singapore, the government has taken a harder stance against companies linked to the burning of peatland in Indonesia, and issued letters of demand to several of these companies. Private individuals too have expressed willingness to seek civil suits against such perpetrators.
According to Reuters, Mr Kalla said on Tuesday that he would encourage lawmakers to impose a ban on companies, which are deliberately adopting “slash-and-burn” clearing practices.
According to calculations by researchers at the VU University Amsterdam, since September 26, daily emissions from Indonesia’s fires exceeded daily emissions from the entire US economy, which is 20 times larger than Indonesia’s.
Last week, experts said the haze situation could last into the new year.
“Maybe it will last until December and January,” said Herry Purnomo, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research, adding that hot spots had reached Papua, a region that usually avoids widespread fires.