JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on Wednesday ordered an acceleration of efforts to extinguish forest fires whose thick smoky haze has affected parts of western Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.
The order was given to the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, Willem Rampangilei, who was summoned to brief Jokowi on the haze.
Haze resulting from forests being burned to clear land for farming and plantations in Indonesia's peat-rich provinces on Sumatra and Kalimantan has become an annual problem for the region over the past two decades.
"The president ordered an acceleration of extinction efforts so that land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan could be extinguished soon," said the agency's spokesman, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.
Rampangilei had earlier set a one-month deadline to extinguish the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan on the Indonesian part of Borneo island.
Early this month, the government declared an emergency in Riau province, where the air quality has worsened, threatening people's health and disrupting flights.
Data from the agency show that about 177,000 people have suffered acute respiratory infections in seven Indonesian provinces. More than 44,000 are in Riau.
The agency has deployed 25 aircraft for water bombings and cloud seeding operations in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
On the ground, thousands of people, including soldiers, policemen and volunteers, are helping extinguish the fires.