Millennium Post

Indonesia steps up fire response as haze blankets Singapore

Six Indonesian provinces have declared states of emergency as forest fires blanketed a swath of Southeast Asia in a smoky haze.

Singapore's air quality deteriorated to unhealthy levels on Friday as wind blew smoke from fires on Sumatra across the city-state and into southern Malaysia. The number of hotspots detected in Sumatra and Borneo by weather satellites has increased in the past month, though they are below levels last year when massive fires in Indonesia caused a regional crisis.

Singapore's three-hour air pollution index had risen to 198 by early afternoon. Its environment agency doesn't give a health warning with the limited duration index, but on a 24-hour basis it says levels above 100 are unhealthy and above 200 very unhealthy.

"The smell of smoke woke me up. I thought something was burning outside," said Singaporean copywriter Lim Jia Ying, who put on a mask for her commute to work. "I'm having a cough and it's getting worse. Luckily, I found a face mask at home," she said.

Indonesia's Disaster Mitigation Agency said six provinces have declared emergencies, allowing firefighting measures to go into full effect including aerial water drops.

The haze is an annual problem for Southeast Asia, but last year's fires were the worst since 1997, straining relations between Indonesia and its neighbors. About 644,931 acres burned, causing billions of dollars in economic losses for Indonesia.

Many of the fires are deliberately set by agricultural conglomerates and small-time farmers to clear forests and peatland for plantations.

National police chief Tito Karnavian said that 85 people have been arrested this year for starting fires.
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