80% of forest fires in Indonesia: report

Almost four-fifths of hotspots detected in Asean over the past month are in Indonesia, according to the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC).

Forest fires and land clearance have blanketed areas of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore with smoke.

Rainforest and peatland are cut and burned, often to create palm oil plantations. Peat is extremely rich in carbon so when it is burned stored carbon is released into the atmosphere.

The ASMC since July 14 reported 1,128 fires.

Fires that break out in the same location repeatedly on different dates are counted more than once with Indonesia accounting for 899 of the sites.

Most of Indonesia’s fires occurred in Kalimantan (531), followed by Sumatra (303), Java (36) and Sulawesi (29).

Indonesia produces the third-highest greenhouse-gas emissions after China and the US.

Malaysia accounted for 71 sites (6.3 per cent) of the hotspots recorded with 33 on the Malaysian peninsula, 31 in Sarawak and seven in Sabah.

Myanmar recorded seven and the Philippines with one.

Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, which ASMC categorised as one region, recorded 150 hotspots.

Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia are not expecting rain in the next few days to quench the fires.

The Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry reported that wildfires burned across 42,640 hectares between January and May this year, which was nearly double the 23,745 hectares burned in the corresponding period last year.

The thick smoke or “haze”, as it is euphemistically known, is reminiscent of the pollution crisis in 2015.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered urgent action to deal with the fires, including the use of waterbombing helicopters. The newly re-elected president told his cabinet that he felt “embarrassed” about meeting fellow Asean leaders who were choking on Indonesian smoke. He said he had ordered the military and police chiefs to sack staff responsible for failing to tackle the fires.

Singapore, which has undertaken numerous initiatives to tackle air pollution, advised residents to take precautions.

Reducing outdoor activities and physical exertion could help to limit the ill effects of exposure to the smoke, Singapore’s National Environment Agency said.

The Malaysian National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) has been directed to carry out cloud seeding to disperse the smoke in Miri, Kuala Baram, Sri Aman and Sibu in Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo.

The Department of Environment said the cloud seeding was in response to hazardous and unhealthy air quality recorded at Kuala Baram and Miri.

Kuala Lumpur. Picture credit: Wikimedia