Asia Calling, Riau - Hanum was a happy 12-year-old girl, a student in 6th grade. But when the haze hit her home of Riau, in Sumatra, she struggled to breathe. Her mother Musriati says her health had been suffering.
“In last year’s haze, she felt the same way too. This time, she was coughing really hard for a week. She had difficulty breathing,” she said.
Her daughter was playing when she suddenly fell – and was immediately sent to the hospital. “We took her to the ICU. Then she lost her breath. It was really sudden the way she left us,” she explained.
Thousands of people on the Indonesian island of Sumatra have been struggling to breath since last July. This month the air quality has been classified as 'dangerous' – a state that could cause serious lung and respiratory problems.
The government claims big companies that clear their land by burning are responsible for the haze. While some 300 thousand respiratory masks have been distributed to citizens, the police continue to investigate companies that might be at fault.
Activist Helda Ichasmy is urging the government to move citizens to a safer place. They submit a report to the national Commissio on Human Rights. “18 years is long enough for us to be breathing polluted air. There are victims. We ourselves have evacuated our families. But what about other citizens – every year do they have to breathe this polluted air?” she argued.
But the Minister of Health, Nilla Moeloek, says evacuations are unnecessary. “Evacuate to where - West Sumatra, Aceh? No. The only thing we have to do is to solve the forest fires itself. And for citizens, please avoid this polluted air by staying at home,” she said, adding that if governement moves them to a hall, the haze will go there too.
Last week the haze also blanketed neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.In Malaysia schools have been closed in five cities to prevent children from being exposed. And huge protests have erupted on social media.
But in Riau, one local health official has claimed that nobody has died because of the haze, including Hanum. Andra Syafril, head of Riau Health Department says Hanum died as a result of malnutrition.
“Imagine, she is 12 year old but her figure is so small just like a 7 year old girl. There is no such thing as people dying because of the haze,” he said, adding she already had health problem before and this haze is just an additional cause.
But until now, it's believed the haze has caused two deaths. Hanum in Riau, and another victim in an neighboring province.
Mukhlis, Hanum's father, says he just wants the government to admit the truth. “If it is because of the haze, admit that. And let us together find a solution. Don’t let anyone else be a victim. Please don’t hide the truth."