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Asia Minute: Indonesia Battles Early Fire Season

Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

  Crews on the west side of Hawai‘i Island have been fighting a series of brush fires over the past two months. Dry conditions have complicated the efforts—and that’s also the case in Southeast Asia. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more on that story in today’s Asia Minute.

Indonesia’s weather patterns are not slaves to the calendar.  Rainy season and dry season can vary on the thousands of islands sprawling across the archipelago.  Dry season is already underway on parts of the island of Sumatra…and that means fires.

The province of Riau is under a state of emergency because of nearly 5-dozen hot spots.  The autumn months are peak season for the most intense fires, and the haze that inevitably follows.  Most of those fires are set on purpose—largely to clear land for palm oil plantations.

Last year, a strong El Nino weather pattern led to an extended dry season—and some of the most destructive fires and worst haze in decades.  21 deaths were blamed on the fires, and health organizations estimate the haze caused respiratory problems for half a million people.

The World Bank puts the cost of last year’s fires at $16-billion dollars.  Indonesian President Joko Widodo has put some reforms in place to increase fire prevention and improve response.  The effectiveness of those reforms will be tested shortly.  On Monday, Indonesia’s state weather agency announced it expects drier than normal weather in the central and western parts of the country for the next two months.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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