For more than two months, we’ve been telling you about the increasing air quality problems choking Southeast Asia. This week, the situation has gotten so severe that the President of Indonesia cut short a trip to the United States and is considering declaring a state of emergency. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.
The last time Indonesia’s leader declared a national state of emergency was the Indian Ocean tsunami more than a decade ago. The action would send thousands of Indonesian troops into the field to fight fires. President Joko Widodo shortened his trip to the United States this week because of the crisis.
Most of the fires have been illegally set on purpose to clear land. As flames ignite the peat soil, they linger - producing a thick haze that has led to cancelled flights, closed schools, and in some cases, evacuations.
Indonesia’s vice-president told Reuters about 40-million residents in five provinces have been affected by the haze. It’s also blown over Singapore, Malaysia, northern Thailand, and as far north as the Philippines. Now it’s moving south toward the heavily populated island of Java—home to the capital city of Jakarta and four of the country’s five biggest cities.
According to some reports, it’s disrupting industry as well. Bloomberg quotes industry officials as saying oil fields are requiring more maintenance and petroleum production has been cut back. According to local media, Indonesia’s government has deployed three warships to Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo in case mass evacuations become necessary.