Indonesian students sent home as haze-related illnesses surface

INDONESIA - The intensifying haze covering a number of regions in Riau has prompted local education agencies to put students on leave over fears of negative health impacts from the heavy smog.

Thick haze, the result of forest and peatland fires, has spread in various directions as,with the worst-hit area being Pelalawan regency over the past two weeks.

Students have started experiencing the effects of the haze. On Thursday morning, the haze caused Sindy Marsela, a fifth grader at SD 1 state elementary school in Bandar Petalangan district, Pelalawan, to lose consciousness.

"It appears that she inhaled too much air polluted with the thick haze," SD 1 state elementary school principal Abdul Manan told reporters.

"When she arrived at school, Sindy's condition was normal, but a few moments before entering her classroom, she said that she felt dizzy and then collapsed," added Manan.

Sindy was then rushed to the Bandar Petalangan community health clinic to get treatment. "After regaining consciousness, her teachers took her home," said Manan.

"Apparently, dozens of other students also experienced dizziness and nausea. I immediately sent them home," he added.

The incident at SD 1 state elementary school strongly influenced the local education office to put all elementary schools in the district on leave.

Haze from Pelalawan, which has covered Pekanbaru city over the past three days, also forced the mayor to put students on leave from Thursday.

"To minimize illnesses due to the worsening air quality, every affected region has been recommended to put students on leave until conditions return to normal," said Pekanbaru municipal spokesperson Harisman Rozie.

"Those placed on leave are students from pre-schools [PAUD], kindergartens and first and third graders at elementary schools. Other schools are allowed to cut their lessons short if conditions become hazardous," said Harisman.

Pekanbaru Mayor Ayat Cahyadi expressed his disappointment over the sluggish handling of the forest and peatland fires and disruption of education activities.

"Pekanbaru is just a victim of the disasters in neighbouring regions," said Ayat.

He said he was grateful for the rain that fell on a number of areas in Pekanbaru at around 6 a.m. this morning, which was able to thin-out the haze until the afternoon.

"Let's pray that rain is able to extinguish the hotspots. It appears that only rain can put out the fires," added Ayat.

The Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency has deployed two helicopters and two Cassa planes to conduct water bombings and cloud seeding operations in Pelalawan regency to combat the resurgence of forest and peatland fires. The haze has yet to reach neighbouring provinces or countries.