South­east Asian haze killed over 100,000

The Myanmar Times - - World -

A SMOG out­break in South­east Asia last year may have caused over 100,000 pre­ma­ture deaths, ac­cord­ing to a new study re­leased yes­ter­day that trig­gered calls for ac­tion to tackle the “killer haze”.

Re­searchers from Har­vard and Columbia uni­ver­si­ties in the US es­ti­mated there were more than 90,000 early deaths in In­done­sia in ar­eas clos­est to haze-belch­ing fires, and sev­eral thou­sand more in neigh­bour­ing Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia.

The new es­ti­mate, reached us­ing a com­plex an­a­lyt­i­cal model, is far higher than the pre­vi­ous of­fi­cial death toll given by au­thor­i­ties of just 19 deaths in In­done­sia.

“If noth­ing changes, this killer haze will carry on tak­ing a ter­ri­ble toll, year af­ter year,” said Green­peace In­done­sia cam­paigner Yuyun In­dradi.

“Fail­ure to act im­me­di­ately to stem the loss of life would be a crime.”

In­done­sian au­thor­i­ties have pre­vi­ously in­sisted they are step­ping up haze-fight­ing ef­forts by ban­ning the grant­ing of new land for palm oil plan­ta­tions and es­tab­lish­ing an agency to re­store dev­as­tated peat­lands.

The haze is an an­nual prob­lem caused by fires set in forests and on car­bon-rich peat­land in In­done­sia to quickly and cheaply clear land for palm oil and pulp­wood plan­ta­tions.

The blazes oc­cur mainly on In­done­sia’s western Su­ma­tra is­land and the In­done­sian part of Bor­neo, with mon­soon winds typ­i­cally blow­ing the haze over Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia.

Last year’s fires were among the worst in mem­ory and cloaked large parts of the re­gion in chok­ing smog for weeks, caus­ing huge num­bers to fall ill and send­ing diplo­matic ten­sions soar­ing.

The new study com­bined satel­lite data with mod­els of health im­pacts from smoke ex­po­sure and read­ings from pol­lu­tion mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions, and es­ti­mated that 100,300 had died pre­ma­turely due to last year’s fires across the three coun­tries.

They es­ti­mated there were 91,600 deaths in In­done­sia, 6500 in Malaysia and 2200 in Sin­ga­pore.

Green­peace hailed the “ground­break­ing” study they said for the first time gave a de­tailed breakdown of deaths from last year’s fires, but cau­tioned that the fig­ure was a “con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate”.

The study only looked at health im­pacts on adults and the ef­fect of dan­ger­ous fine-par­tic­u­late mat­ter, known as PM 2.5. It did not ex­am­ine the ef­fect on young­sters or of the other tox­ins pro­duced by the blazes.

In re­al­ity, infants are some of the most at risk from the haze, said Dr Nursyam Ibrahim from the West Kal­i­man­tan prov­ince branch of the In­done­sian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion on Bor­neo.

“We are the doc­tors who care for the vul­ner­a­ble groups ex­posed to toxic smoke in ev­ery med­i­cal cen­tre, and we know how aw­ful it is to see the disease symp­toms ex­pe­ri­enced by ba­bies and chil­dren in our care,” said Dr Nursyam. –

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