JAKARTA: Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono left Saturday for Sumatra, to take the lead in an operation to combat massive forest fires, which has so far proved fruitless.
The fire has spiked to levels not seen since the previous south-east Asian haze crisis of June 2013.
The two-week emergency status over the fires, which are still ripping through vast tracts of forest, was extended Wednesday as water-bombing proved futile against the flames.
Yudhoyono this week criticized the response led by officials in the province and said Friday he would take control of the response.
“I want the regional officials in Riau to stand on the frontline to prevent and handle this haze. Why is it still happening? The people have become victims,” he wrote, adding “the results are unsatisfactory.”
A report by the Washington-based World Resources Institute this week said the current fires were cloaking areas in thick smog.
Air pollution in some parts of Riau province have hit “dangerous” levels in recent days, with 50,000 people receiving treatment for respiratory illnesses, the national disaster agency said, while schools and some businesses have been forced to close.