‘Dangerous’ air pollution in Indonesia’s Borneo leads to school closures

September 16, 2019

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Singapore: People commute before the city skyline on a hazy day on Sunday. Pollution from forest fires in Indonesia has pushed Singapore’s air quality to unhealthy levels for the first time in three years, causing concern among government officials as the city state prepares to host the Formula One race this week.—AFP
Singapore: People commute before the city skyline on a hazy day on Sunday. Pollution from forest fires in Indonesia has pushed Singapore’s air quality to unhealthy levels for the first time in three years, causing concern among government officials as the city state prepares to host the Formula One race this week.—AFP

PALANGKA: Schools in two cities in the Indonesian part of Borneo island will be closed for a week after smoke from forest fires caused air quality to hit “dangerous” levels, a local government official said on Sunday.

Indonesia and neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia are regularly hit by smoke from slash-and-burn clearances of forests for farms and palm oil plantations, but conditions this year have been the worst since 2015 due to an El Nino weather pattern causing an extended dry spell.

The air pollution index in Palangka Raya, the capital of Borneo’s Central Kalimantan province, hit 500, or “dangerous”, on Sunday, data from Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Ministry showed. Any reading above 100 is considered “unhealthy”.

An official said on Sunday that schools in Palangka Raya and another city, Sampit, would be shut next week, in line with instructions circulated by Central Kalima­ntan’s governor on Friday. “From our observation, the smoke is very thick in Palangka Raya and Sampit,” Slamet Winaryo, the head of Central Kalimantan’s education agency, said by telephone.

“We have decided to give one week off from Monday to Saturday for the students in both locations,” he said. He did not say how many pupils or schools would be affected.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2019