Fires close schools in Indonesia

Jakarta - More schools were closed and thousands of residents suffered respiratory problems on Indonesia's Sumatra island as haze from forest and bush fires worsened. 

Latest satellite images detected nearly 1 500 hotspots indicating fires on Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo island, said Sutopo Nugroho, spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Agency. 

"The worsening drought means that more fires are expected," he said. 

He said authorities in Sumatra's Jambi town ordered the closure of junior and senior high schools. Last week, they advised elementary and kindergarten pupils to stay at home because of a "haze emergency". 

Health authorities in Jambi and Riau province reported more than 26 000 cases of respiratory infections, he said.

The Indonesian government has warned that the drought, exacerbated by the El Nino weather pattern, could damage 200 000ha of rice fields, or about 1-2 million tons of rice crops.

The drought has hit parts of Java, South Sulawesi, Bali and West Timor, and is expected to last until October.

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