Indonesia has put warships on standby to evacuate people affected by acrid haze from forest fires which has killed at least 10 and caused respiratory illnesses in half a million, officials said Saturday.
For nearly two months, thousands of fires caused by slash-and-burn farming in Indonesia have choked vast expanses of Southeast Asia, forcing schools to close and scores of flights and some international events to be cancelled.
Indonesian disaster mitigation agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the fires had killed 10 people, some fighting the blazes while others died of respiratory illnesses or medical conditions exacerbated by the pollution.
"The impact of the forest fires has caused 10 people in Sumatra and Kalimantan to die, directly and indirectly," Nugroho said.
The figure did not include seven hikers killed in a wildfire on Java last week.
The agency estimated at least half a million people have suffered from respiratory illness since the fires started in July and 43 million people have been affected by the widespread fires and haze in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Nugroho said the figure was likely just the tip of the iceberg because many people did not go to health facilities for treatment.
The government has decided to send ships to haze affected provinces to evacuate victims, especially children and women, if necessary, with two warships deployed to Kalimantan on Friday.
"For now the ships will be standing by. We will begin evacuation when there is an instruction from the government," navy spokesman Muhammad Zainuddin told AFP.
The government has deployed around 30 aircraft to fight the fires and for cloud seeding with 22,000 troops on the ground to combat the blazes.
Indonesia's forestry ministry said this year's disaster was the most widespread with more than 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) of land burned and six provinces severely affected by the haze.
"This is due to human acts because 99 percent of forest fires were started deliberately. This is an extraordinary crime against humanity," Nugroho said.
Other countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Japan have sent assistance to help Indonesia fighting the forest fires.