Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said Thursday the government has asked other countries for help in extinguishing forest fires that have caused widespread haze in Southeast Asia.
The country has been unable to put out the rugged forest and land fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan on the Indonesian part of Borneo island where fires have been worse this year due to intentional burning, especially on peat land, and the absence of rain because of the El Nino effect.
“We have asked for help yesterday and have been assisted by Singapore,” Jokowi told reporters. He added that assistance from Russia, Malaysia and Japan are in progress. He said three planes were expected to arrive Thursday.
“We hope the assistance will accelerate the efforts to put out the forest fires on the peat land, which need very different treatment than regular forest fires,” he said. “We need aircraft that are able to carry12 to 15 tons of waters, not only up to three tons.”
Indonesia has already deployed some 25,840 soldiers, police and fire personnel in six provinces, to fight the fires with 25 aircraft conducting water-bombing and cloud-seeding operations.
More than 200,000 people have suffered acute respiratory infections in at least seven provinces, while media reports said at least 6 people have died and 18 babies are in intensive care.
Jokowi tried to visit affected provinces in Sumatra but the plane was unable to land Thursday for the third time in recent weeks due to lack of visibility at Sultan Taha airport in Jambi. The president and his entourage reportedly landed in West Sumatra province and would be transported to Jambi either by helicopter or road.
According to the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space, 1,303 fires are burning across the country, mostly on Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi islands.