A study published by public health experts from Harvard and Columbia estimated that roughly 100,000 people in Southeast Asia may have died prematurely as a consequence of exposure to the 2015 haze. Haze is a euphemism for the widespread smog produced by forest fires throughout Indonesia due to forest clearing for palm oil plantations. Last year’s haze crisis was the most severe since 1997. The fires on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo destroyed over 10,000 square miles of forest and covered much of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia in toxic smoke (New York Times). The study claims that the haze was responsible for an uptick in lung cancer, asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory ailments among adults in affected regions. The death toll could be much higher than the study suggests, as there are additional reports of widespread infant deaths potentially connected to last year’s haze (BBC).
The Indonesian Health Ministry contested the report’s findings, calling its methodology “irresponsible” (Reuters). The Indonesian government reports only 24 deaths and 500,000 minor injuries that could be definitively be connected to forest fires and haze in 2015 (Reuters). Herry Purnomo, a scientist at the Indonesian-based Center for International Forestry called the study a “good wake-up call” (New York Times). Greenpeace Indonesia activist Yuyun Indradi said that “this killer haze will carry on taking a terrible toll, year after year,” if Indonesian authorities fail to halt illegal brush fires (BBC).
Tags: Environment, southeast asia, global climate, Ganan, Indonesia, haze, forest fires