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Indonesia Asks Neighbors to Help Fight Forest Fires

An Indonesian soldier drags a hose while fighting a peatland fire in Ogan Ilir, South Sumatra province on the island of Sumatra, Sept. 30, 2015.
An Indonesian soldier drags a hose while fighting a peatland fire in Ogan Ilir, South Sumatra province on the island of Sumatra, Sept. 30, 2015.
Indonesia Asks Four Countries to Help Fight Forest Fires
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The president of Indonesia is asking for foreign help to fight forest and agricultural fires in his country.

Until now, Indonesia had repeatedly refused offers of help from overseas to fight the smoky fires. The country has faced sharp criticism for rejecting offers of assistance from Singapore, its neighbor.

President Joko Widodo said on Thursday that the Indonesian government was asking for help from Singapore and three other countries. The three are Russia, Malaysia and Japan.

The president said that Indonesian helicopters are only able to carry a small amount of the water needed to put out the fires. The Associated Press reported his comments.

The Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space says more than 1,300 fires are burning across the country. The government has deployed about 25,000 soldiers, police and firefighters in six provinces to battle the fires.

Indonesian farmers, developers and other businesses often burn rainforest to clear land at this time of year. The burning usually takes place during the country’s dry season. But a large rise in palm oil production on peat lands is blamed for the many fires this year. Peat is made partly of dead plants. It burns easily and is often used as cooking fuel.

The resulting thick, black smoke has polluted skies over Indonesia and four other countries. The burning has worsened air quality, closed schools and forced the cancellation of sporting events and other outdoor activities.

Smoke pollution has been a problem in Pekanbaru, a city on the island of Sumatra. To escape the unhealthy air, some babies were taken to air-conditioned office of the governor.

Nur Habiba Al-Ashraf is a mother. She says the government office is safe and clean, unlike open areas. Her child, she adds, is breathing normally since he was brought inside the building.

The smoke is not only affecting people; it is affecting wildlife. In Indonesian Borneo, an orangutan rescue center says some of its animals have developed breathing problems. Doctors reported on Tuesday that 16 orangutan babies are suffering from acute respiratory infections. Denny Kurniawan is the center’s program manager.

He says he is worried that if the fires continue, a lot more orangutans could become sick and some could die.

Scientists have warned that the fires this year could be worst ever because of a weather system called El Nino. They say the weather system has created extremely dry conditions in Indonesia.

I’m Jim Tedder.

This report was based on information from VOA correspondent Steve Herman, Agence France Presse, the Associated Press and the Reuters News service. George Grow wrote this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story

aeronautics – n. the science that deals with airplanes and flying

acute – adj. very serious or dangerous

respiratory – adj. relating to the act or process of breathing