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Indonesia Battles Fires Causing Haze in Southeast Asia

  • Brian Padden

Indonesia has sent hundreds of fire fighters to battle blazes on Sumatra island that are causing a choking haze in nearby Singapore and Malaysia.

The forest fires on Sumatra are causing some of the worst air pollution in the region since 2006.

Indonesia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Tene says while hundreds of firefighters have been sent to contain the blazes, it will take time before they can have any effect.

"Certainly we will send the necessary resources, in terms of manpower and equipment to deal with the fire but we have also to take into account [that] the geographical situation on the ground might be quite difficult," said Tene. "This is happening in the middle of a forest. That may hamper some of the efforts being taken."

The fire fighters are being dispatched partly in response to requests from officials in Singapore and Malaysia, which are being covered with a smoky haze from the fires.

The Singapore government says the air pollution index there has reached unhealthy levels and cases of respiratory problems, including asthma, had increased significantly.

Singapore also offered immediate assistance to help Jakarta put out the fires.

Many of the fires were set to clear land to grow oil palm or other crops.

The fires come ahead of an Indonesian environmental protection plan to impose a two-year moratorium on new permits to clear forests or peat lands.

The haze problem happens nearly every year, and at times it has been so bad that it forced the cancellation of flights in Malaysia and Singapore and made hundreds of people ill.

The Indonesian government restricts burning to clear land but struggles to enforce the regulations. Environmental groups say clearing forests and peat land causes much of the country's emissions of greenhouse gases.