Smoke from Indonesia fires causes 500,000 cases of acute respiratory illness – ‘This is a crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions’Posted by Jim at Tuesday, October 27, 2015
[Long-time Desdemona readers will recall that smoke from peatland fires killed many people in Moscow in 2010. Dense wildfire smog grips Moscow in heatwave, Heat probably killed thousands in Moscow –Des]
By Kate Lamb
26 October 2015
(Jakarta) – Raging forest fires across Indonesia are thought to be responsible for up to half a million cases of respiratory infections, with the resultant haze covering parts of Malaysia and Singapore now being described as a “crime against humanity”.
Tens of thousands of hectares of forest have been alight for more than two months as a result of slash and burn – the fastest and quickest way to clear land for new plantations.
Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil and fires are frequently intentionally lit to clear the land with the resulting haze an annual headache.
But this year a prolonged dry season and the impact of El Niño have made the situation far worse, with one estimate that daily emissions from the fires have surpassed the average daily emissions of the entire US economy.
The fires have caused the air to turn a toxic sepia colour in the worst hit areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan, where levels of the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) have pushed toward 2,000. Anything above 300 is considered hazardous.
Endangered wildlife such as orangutans have also been forced to flee the forests because of the fires.
Six Indonesian provinces have declared a state of emergency.
Across the region Indonesia’s haze crisis has been causing havoc – schools in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia have been shut down, flights have been grounded, events cancelled and Indonesian products boycotted, as millions try to avoid the intense smoke.
In the worst affected parts, on Sumatra and Kalimantan, ten people have died from haze-related illnesses and more than 500,000 cases of acute respiratory tract infections have been reported since July 1.
Sutopo Puro Nugroho, the spokesperson for the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has acknowledged that for months 43 million people on the two islands have been inhaling toxic fumes. Yet, he admitted, the number of unrecorded cases was likely much higher.
“This is a crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions,” he said. “But now is not the time to point fingers but to focus on how we can deal with this quickly.”
As the Indonesian Council of Ulema has held mass prayers for rain, the administration of President Joko Widodo has deployed 30 aircraft and 22,000 troops to fight the fires on the ground, as well as stationed several warships off Kalimantan, on standby to evacuate victims if required. [more]
By Robert Scribbler
26 October 2015
(robertscribbler.com) – It’s official, the 2015 Indonesian wildfires are the worst that Island nation has ever experienced. Worse than even the terrible 1997 wildfires and possibly the worst wildfire disaster ever. And it’s all an upshot of what happens when slash and burn agriculture meets a once lush land now sweltering in a human hothouse world.
There’s been something dreadfully wrong with Indonesia’s forests and peatlands ever since massive fires ignited across that island nation back in 1997. Back then, a monster El Niño — combined with heat from massive human greenhouse gas emissions — pushed the world to 0.7 to 0.8 C hotter than 1880s averages. Equatorial temperatures would never again fall to a normal threshold. And as the lands and surrounding oceans warmed, the dry season lengthened and the rainy season shortened.
Slash and burn agriculture, a mainstay practice for the region ever since industrial farms began to take root there in the middle 20th Century, always generated some fires. But before human greenhouse emissions brought on added heat and dryness, the situation was one of slow degradation rather than violent conflagration. Even during the dry season, mid-to-late 20th Century moisture levels were much higher and fires tended to be naturally suppressed by the lush wetness of the region. But now, with the added heat of human warming creating droughts in the peatlands, slash and burn agriculture essentially amounted to throwing burning embers into a powder keg. […]
To say that the Indonesian fires this year have been bad may well be the understatement to end all understatements. As of mid October more than 100,000 individual fires had been reported. By late October, damages to the Indonesian economy were estimated to have reached 30 billion dollars (or more than six times the economic impact of the 1997 wildfires). More than 6,000 schools were closed as an international firefighting effort involving an army of 22,000 firefighters proved inadequate to contain the massive-country spanning blazes.
An entire nation fell choking under black, gray, or toxic yellow skies. 500,000 people were reported sick. But not one person among Indonesia’s 43 million residents could pass a day without feeling the dark fingers of the peat smoke squeezing into their chest and lungs, doing untold future damage.
Thousands of miles away, places like Guam were forced to issue air quality alerts as the massive Indonesian smoke cloud was swept across vast swaths of ocean by storms or other weather systems. Indonesia’s peat fire smoke had now become a toxic export and neighboring nations were not at all happy at the vast, dark clouds spreading out from the burning lands. [more]