Asia

Emergency nursery set up in Indonesian town amid hazardous haze

Picture of a baby in the Pekanbaru nursery Image copyright Aliya Roesli
Image caption The third floor of the Pekanbaru mayor's office has been converted into a nursery

As a thick haze caused by forest fires continues to blanket parts of Indonesia, with Nasa data showing it could be one of the worst on record, one badly-affected town has started a shelter for babies out of the mayor's office. Pekanbaru is in Sumatra's Riau province, which has declared a state of emergency amid hazardous levels of pollution. Sari Indriwhy speaks to mothers in Pekanbaru.

In an air-conditioned room on the third floor of the Pekanbaru mayor's office, 35-year-old Apriyani watches over her sleeping four-month-old baby Gibran.

She is one of four mothers who have moved into this emergency nursery set up by the local government this week. Offered to all needy mothers in town, it is an attempt to protect babies from the toxic haze caused by forest fires that has covered the city for months.

"My baby is free from the haze here. It's not like at home," said Apriyani, who like many Indonesians goes by only her first name.

"At home my baby just coughs and coughs. Here the room is sealed and there is an air purifier - at home we don't have anything like that."

Image copyright Aliya Roesli
Image caption Apriyani brought her baby to the nursery shortly after it was set up this week
Image copyright Aliya Roesli
Image caption Infants are particularly vulnerable to the haze, which contains particles linked to long-term health issues

Air pollution levels in Pekanbaru, in Sumatra's Riau province have been recorded at almost 1000 on the Pollutants Standards Index (PSI).

A reading above 100 is classified as unhealthy and anything above 300 is hazardous.

The forest fires are the result of land clearing for palm oil and rubber plantations.

Image copyright NASA
Image caption US space agency Nasa has released satellite images showing the huge clouds of smoke from forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo
Image copyright NASA
Image caption Researchers studying Nasa data say the fires are on track to be one of the worst on record

"Babies are suffering the most," says Apriyani.

There are rented cribs, milk and baby food in the shelter as well as oxygen tanks but Apriyani says she doesn't want to stay long.

"I want the government to work harder to make the haze go away so our children don't have trouble breathing all the time. It's really bad for their health isn't it?"

Image copyright Aliya Roesli
Image caption There are rented cribs, milk and baby food in the shelter as well as oxygen tanks in the nursery

Dr Helda Suryani, the head of the local health service in Pekanbaru says the shelter is for poorer families who are especially at risk.

"Richer people can afford air conditioners and they can evacuate. This is for poor people whose houses we have seen are filled all day with the very dangerous haze."

When asked why it took so long for the government to create this small shelter, she laughs nervously.

"Why a long time? We have been praying for rain and when the military came there were two days of clear weather. But now it's come back. So it keeps going on like this."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pekanbaru has seen hazardous levels of haze
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Face masks have become a common sight in the town

But the baby shelter has come too late for at least one young mother.

Desi is sitting beside her one-year-old in Santa Maria hospital. He has been diagnosed with a serious lung infection.

"I have kept my child indoors the whole time. I have not been going anywhere because of the toxic haze but still my child has a lung infection. Why hasn't the government done something, anything?" she asks.

"Is the government waiting for all our children to die from the haze?"

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