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Asia Minute: Indonesia Battles a Rough Fire Season

NASA Earth Observatory
CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

Here in Hawai’i we’re in the annual season of possible tropical storms and even hurricanes. But elsewhere in the Pacific, there’s another weather-related concern. In parts of Southeast Asia, it’s fire season — and emergency workers are trying to get ahead it.

It’s a dangerous time in Southeast Asia’s biggest country. Indonesia is facing a fire crisis – it happens every year to a certain extent, but this year has had a longer dry season than usual.

Authorities have declared a state of emergency in at least five provinces.

Bloomberg reports more than 9,000 people have been sent to fight fires – from members of the police and the military to environmental groups and private companies.

Palm oil plantations and paper plantations are often the sites of illegal burning to clear land.

The problem is not only the fires themselves, but also the haze that they create.

The World Bank says more than 6 million acres were burned in 2015, the last year of extremely intense fires, which also sent thick haze drifting over to neighboring Malaysia and Singapore. A study by researchers at Harvard and Columbia Universities found the smoke and fires led to about 100,000 premature deaths in the region.  

Earlier this month, Indonesia’s Supreme Court held the government responsible for those wildfires — a spokesman saying it should “work on necessary efforts to stop wildfires from happening.”

The Jakarta Post reports that in addition to an increased government response, palm oil and paper companies have invested millions of dollars over the past several years to improve their fire management systems.

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