Air pollution

Study: 2015 Southeast Asian haze crisis killed over 100,000

A haze outbreak in South-east Asia 2015 have caused over 100,000 premature deaths, according to a new study released September 19 that triggered calls for action to tackle the "killer haze". Researchers from Harvard and Columbia universities in the US estimated there were more than 90,000 early deaths in Indonesia in areas closest to haze-belching fires, and several thousand more in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia. The new estimate, reached using a complex analytical model, is far higher than the previous official death toll given by authorities of just 19 deaths in Indonesia. "If nothing changes, this killer haze will carry on taking a terrible toll, year after year," said Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaign Yuyun Indradi. "Failure to act immediately to stem the loss of life would be a crime."

A spokesman for Indonesia's environment ministry did not immediately have any comment. Indonesian authorities have previously insisted they are stepping up haze-fighting efforts, through such actions as banning the granting of new land for palm oil plantations and establishing an agency to restore devastated peatlands.

Indonesia declares emergency due to forest fires

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The Indonesian Minister of Forestry and Environment announced the country has been placed under emergency state due to forecasts on blazes and impacts of smoke from forest and land fires. The minister affirmed that forest and land fires situation will be monitored closely. According to the Indonesian minister, effective monitoring and prompt response helped to significantly reduce the number of fires in Jambi and West Kalimantan provinces by 70-90 per cent in the early months of the year. However, the number of hot spots has increased during July and August, especially in Riau and West Kalimantan. According to Indonesia’s Meteorology, Geophysics and Climatology Agency (BMKG), the number of hot spots has increased due to the dry season and drought in Sumatra and vicinities. The agency also anticipated that this year, the dry season will last until mid-September.

Indonesia needs to amend haze regulating laws

Indonesia should amend its fire management system and laws if they want the transboundary haze problem to be resolved. Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi said Indonesian laws still permitted burning on land areas of less than 0.8 hectares. He said the peat soil management in that neighbouring country was also less effective and had contributed to burning and hazy condition there. “In Malaysia we no longer allow such burning and we hope the Indonesian side also do the same so that transboundary haze can be overcome and reduced,” he told reporters after officiating the Sarawak GiatMara graduation ceremony.

Malaysia must take lead in tackling haze issue

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Malaysia must be proactive in preventing the perennial haze, because it comes with great cost to health, environment and the economy, said social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye. “Time is not on our side. Malaysia has to take the lead and get Asean to work on measures to prevent or mitigate this transboundary pollution,” he said in a statement. Urging for strong political will and commitment from each Asean member, he suggested that the association of nations set a target – that the region be haze-free in the next three to five years. “Images of a grey sky, low visibility, polluted air, respiratory problems, school closures and flight delays during last year’s crisis are still vivid in everyone’s minds. “Malaysia should avoid a repeat of this at all cost,” he said. Lee praised Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar for trying to get Indonesia to agree to address the issue. “Regrettably, the minister has yet to receive any response from his counterpart despite sending nearly 10 letters,” he said. A bilateral memorandum of understanding (MoU) was proposed after Asean ratified the Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Lee called on Malaysia and Indonesia to ensure the MoU was signed as soon as possible so that bilateral measures and actions to solve the issue could be expedited. He said the Meteorological Depart­ment had reported that ­forest fires in Riau should not be an immediate concern because the winds are not blowing towards Malaysia. “But what will happen in May and June when the winds change direction? “If need be, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak should get in touch with Indonesian President Joko Widodo to get things going.”

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