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Friday, October 23, 2015, 17:08

Indonesia prepares warships to evacuate 'haze' refugees

By Reuters
Indonesia prepares warships to evacuate 'haze' refugees

An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds the city in Palangkaraya on October 22, 2015. ( AFP PHOTO / WISANGGENI)

JAKARTA - Indonesia is preparing warships as a last resort to evacuate children and others suffering from smoke inhalation from slash-and-burn fires, a minister said on Friday, as the country struggles to contain fires expected to continue for weeks.

Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual "haze" caused by forest and peat clearing across Indonesia, which has come under increasing political pressure to stop the problem, but so far to no avail.

Fires this year have been helped by drier weather brought by the El Nino weather phenomenon and have pushed air pollution to hazardous levels across Southeast Asia, forcing schools to close and disrupting flights.

"We are looking for a place for babies to be evacuated to if necessary," coordinating security minister Luhut Pandjaitan told reporters referring to plans to prepare six warships and two state-owned ferries.

The ships, however, will only be used as a last resort if other efforts, including moving residents to government offices with air purifiers, prove unsuccessful, Pandjaitan said.

The former general, who has been tasked by President Joko Widodo to oversee the response to the haze, said the country was treating the issue as a national disaster but stopped short of declaring a state of national emergency.

Indonesia earlier this month asked several countries, including neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia and far-flung Russia, for aid, equipment and personnel to help combat the fires.

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