Indonesian officials have begun evacuating infants and their mothers from Riau province in Indonesia as levels of air pollution from peat and forest fires on Sumatra remain hazardous across the region. The Mayor of Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau and one of the worst-affected areas of Sumatra, issued the order to evacuate all babies under six months of age. Thick smog has persisted for weeks and continues to cause illness and limit visibility in the area.
The air pollution index in the region has hovered above 1,000 for over a week, while visibility in Pekanbaru has fallen below 100 meters on some days. Any air pollution reading higher than 300 is deemed hazardous.
The mayor told local news agency Antara News that the children would be evacuated to a makeshift nursery in a town hall equipped with air conditioners, cribs and a health clinic. "Poor families do not normally have good facilities for infants, thus the air pollution inside their homes is similar to that outside," he told local reporters. "Therefore, we are trying to provide facilities, including good air conditioning, so that the infants, the country's next generation, can breathe clean air."
The Pekanbaru city government confirmed that evacuations had begun. "Some mothers and their babies have started to move into the room on the third floor of the Mayor's office in Pekanbaru," a September 30 statement on the government website said.
More than 35,000 people have fallen ill from the air pollution in the three months up to the end of September, according to the Riau province health agency. Most of those were suffering from respiratory ailments, although eye infections and skin irritation have also been reported.