Respiratory illness hits over 10,000 in hazy Riau

RIAU - The heavy haze which has been engulfing Riau, Indonesia, for the past few weeks, may have started to fade, but the region's problems are not over yet as the disaster has left an estimated 10,380 residents suffering from acute respiratory infections (ARIs).

About half the patients were reportedly children under five years of age, the Riau Health Agency said on Monday.

Head of Disease Control and Environmental Health at the agency, Tengku Zul Effendi, said the number is expected to increase as the figure covered only eight of the 12 regencies and cities across Riau.

"This is not the final figure as several of the worst-hit regions, including Rokan Hilir, have yet to submit their data," said Mr Zul.

The rise in the number of people suffering from ARIs has been relentless since June 18, 10 days after the haze started to blanket the province.

The haze has also triggered asthma attacks among 699 people, and pneumonia among 708.

"Some of them have had to be hospitalised due to their severe conditions," he said.

As many as 538 people have suffered skin irritation, while 622 have had eye irritation.

"A mixture of haze and post-fire dust residue has contributed to skin and eye irritation.

These are relatively minor diseases and are directly due to the haze. But they have to be treated immediately to prevent further infection,"

Mr Zul said, adding that the administration would pay for the treatment of all patients who suffered haze-related illnesses.

"Treatment will be free as long as the state of emergency is in force in Riau. We are trying to provide immediate assistance and treatment to patients," he added.

The agency has distributed 120,000 masks across 12 regencies and cities since the haze hit the province, as well as providing an additional 170,000 masks.

Fire-fighting measures were showing signs of progress on Monday, with the Meteorology, Geophysics and Climatology Agency's Pekanbaru office sighting only four hot spots in Riau - a significant decrease from the previous 17 spots sighted last Saturday.

Land and forest fires have for years been a major problem for Riau as smallholders and plantation firms allow slash-and-burn farming methods. In Riau itself, hundreds of people were evacuated, while several flights were cancelled when the haze hampered visibility severely.

In some regions like Dumai and Bengkalis, the air-quality index reached more than 600 on the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI). Under normal conditions, the PSI range is between zero and 50; a reading above 300 is considered hazardous. The fires have also reportedly claimed the lives of two Bengkalis residents.

Haze also blanketed the neighbouring island of Batam and caused the authorities to ban flights.

Forecast for Singapore Today

Singaporeans can continue to expect the air to be good.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said yesterday that the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) today, until 6pm, is expected to be at the high end of the good range - below 50.

The 24-hour PM2.5 level today is expected to be slightly elevated. PM2.5 particulates - fine particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter - are said to be more dangerous to a person's health than larger particles.

Still, NEA said that normal activities can be carried out by healthy people, children, seniors, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions, especially lung or heart disease.

NEA said that for the next few days, low-level winds from the south-west are expected.

Thunderstorms are expected in the late morning and early afternoon.

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