The Chain: Indonesian haze season begins with little progress since 2015 public health disaster

In 2015, according to the Government of Indonesia, 2.6 million hectares of Indonesia’s forests burned out of control as a result of dryer weather and deliberately set fires. This had negative impacts on regional health, education, and livelihoods of millions of people in SE Asia. The daily emissions from the Indonesian fires in October 2015 exceeded those of the U.S. economy.

2015 Economic Impacts

These 2015 fires resulted in over $16 billion dollars in economic costs and damages to the Indonesian economy. This is twice as large as the estimated economic value added to the Indonesian economy from the palm oil industry in 2014.

In 2015, Singapore’s economy suffered an estimated S$700 million loss from Indonesian fires.

As a result of regional concerns, under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act of 2014, Singapore has stated they are ready to prosecute Indonesian companies found responsible for setting fires. Singapore has now told Indonesia’s Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APRIL) to describe how their six suppliers are taking steps to prevent fires. Singapore has been suffering from haze since at least 1972.

2015 Fires Scale

In 2015, over 100,000 man-made fires were deliberately lit to clear and prepare land for agriculture. The fires that occurred on peatlands in Malaysia and Indonesia caused pollution that led to more than 90% of all haze. Peat swamp forests have saturated soils filled with decomposing material, sometimes to a depth of 65 feet. When wet, these soils do not burn – but when dried out, they burn easily and are very difficult to extinguish.

Public health costs from these deliberately set fires are enormous. During 2015, air pollution regularly exceeded the maximum level of 1000 on the international Pollutant Standard Index (PSI). In some cases, the PSI was greater than 2,000. This smoke is toxic and results in respiratory, vision and other diseases – many of which are life threatening, in particular to children and the elderly. The burning also releases cyanide, aluminum, formaldehyde, ozone, nitric oxide, methane and many other toxic chemicals into the air that can have life-long health impacts, and can even be fatal. Over 110 million people are estimated to have suffered health impacts from the fires – some deadly.

Dr. Hadi Daryanto, Director General of Social Forestry with the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry recently explained:

“First, there is insufficient government funding to prevent fires. Second, fire prevention is not a priority for local-level government at the province or district level. And third, local elites benefit from using fires in land speculation.”

The question remains, as reported previously by Chain Reaction Research, whether Indonesia will control its fires to improve public health and economic growth, or continue to burns its assets. Fires in 2015 damaged Indonesia’s economy, decreased corporate earnings, and destroyed public health. Currently as of May 2016 satellite imagery shows 730 fire hotspots in Indonesia compared with 2,900 fire hotspots in May 2015.