In the last 18 years, forest fires have occurred almost every year in Pekanbaru City, resulting in haze and smoke and polluting the whole city. The status of the haze is ‘hazardous’ (its Air Pollution Standard Index/ISPU hitting more than 400) for the human life, especially for vulnerable groups such as women, and children. Almost every year the emergency response provided by the local government of Pekanbaru City and the state government are still far from enough to protect the public’s health (women, especially pregnant mothers, infants, and children). Usually women and children are exposed to the haze with neither proper protection (N95 mask) nor an adequate alternative residence during the occurrence of forest fires. Children are forced to be absent from school for weeks because their classes are not equipped with air conditioners and air purifiers.
Although the Government of Pekanbaru City has provided emergency response actions, such as evacuating victims to a sports stadium, yet their emergency response does not adhere to health protection standards. The rooms and halls are not equipped with air conditioners and ventilations for good air flow, and the victims are not provided with N95 masks. In addition, the budget allocated for the management of forest fires on the public health is still far from adequate. Such a response will only deteriorate the health of women, especially pregnant mothers, and children.
Research shows that an intensive exposure to the haze creates a risk of pneumonia and lung cancer, of which the symptoms will only be apparent in 10 or 15 years. Thus, the thousands of women and children exposed to the haze with worrying levels of ISPU are more vulnerable to these diseases in the future; a costly price which may very well happen if the government does not immediately take more comprehensive and coordinated steps in handling the impacts of haze in line with the health protection standards.
In relation to this, Women Research Institute (WRI) carried out a research on the impact of haze due to forest fires on the health and socioeconomic aspects for vulnerable groups (women and children) in Pekanbaru, Riau. Current documentations and researches on the impacts of haze very rarely use the feminist perspective, and as a result the impacts on women’s and children’s lives tend to be overlooked, despite them being the most vulnerable group.
Also identified in the study are issues faced by the government of Pekanbaru City in allocating the budget and providing more effective emergency responses.Until today, the main issue of emergency responses to haze is the lack of a specific budget allocation to handle the crisis. It also analyses the role of the people in handling haze-related emergency responses, including the various efforts by the community, both men and women, as well as NGOs’ involvement in overcoming the issue of haze management measures.
It is expected that future emergency responses can cater better to the needs of both men and women. A strategy of the study, among others, is by identifying local wisdom adapted by the local men and women to overcome haze triggered by forest fires. In addition, it also identifies the gender power relations and mobility pattern of both men and women.***