Wed, 25 Sep 2002

Haze endangers Palangkaraya residents

Agencies, Jakarta

Air pollution levels in Central Kalimantan were off the scale and people were in grave danger of dying painful deaths from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, officials said Tuesday.

Palangkaaraya Air Laboratorium head Andrie Manurung said levels of carbon monoxide and dust particles in the air had exceeded test parameters in Palangkaraya.

The concentration of dust particles in the air (PM10) was already 1,525 microgram/M3 on Tuesday, far in excess of the normal level of 50 microgram/M3.

The concentration of (C0) reached 19,66 milligram/M3 or the danger category.

Andrie said CO, if inhaled, would enter the hemoglobin (red cells) and destroy nervous systems and eyesight.

"It could lead to heart rhythm disorder, dizzy, paralysis, comma, breath obstruction, and death. Therefore I urge the citizens to stay indoors as much as possible," Andrie was quoted by Antara as saying.

The city by day resembled a city at night due to the thick haze that forced citizens to seal their homes and motorists to wear masks to avoid the choking smoke.

"Visibility is below 50 metres today and it seems like there's no life here. We are praying for heavy rain to clear the thick smoke," airport official Jamaluddin Hasibuan told Reuters by telephone from Palangkaraya, 875 kilometers northeast of Jakarta.

Many people are reportedly suffering from eye and respiratory problems from the dust particles from forest and ground fires.

The sick are clogging health centers in the city, including Dr. Doris Sylvanus General Hospital.

"Respiratory problems are mounting and children are the ones suffering the most. We have also had an outbreak of diarrhea because of the lack of clean water," said Dr. Eka.

Central Kalimantan has been hardest hit by the haze and the main airport in Palangkaraya has been closed since the fourth week of August.

Several schools are also closed and government officials have decided not to turn up to work.

Activities at shopping centers, however, remain normal although a bit sluggish.

In Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province, the sky was clear early in the morning with visibility of around three kilometers, but soon lessened to two kilometers as smoke blew in from burning forests in Ketapang district and Central Kalimantan.

"We have had rains in several areas of Pontianak last night that have helped clear the sky and we are expecting more rain as satellite images show a large concentration of clouds over our province," an employee at the Pontianak meteorology office told AFP.

In Muara Teweh, a district town in Central Kalimantan, visibility was slightly better at 500 meters by 11:00 a.m. because of rains the previous day, Achmad Yani of the local meteorology office said.

In Sampit, another district town of Central Kalimantan, visibility was around 800 meters at noon, said Musa Hanaya of the local meteorology office.

Haze has also begun to cover parts of Sumatra, curtailing visibility to 400 meters in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, for the first few hours after dawn.

Illegal loggers and farmers are blamed for the fires which they light to clear their fields for the next planting season.

Smoke from the fires has also affected neighboring Singapore and Malaysia although it is not as bad as in 1997 and 1998, when dense haze cost regional economies US$9 billion in damage to farming, transport and tourism.