Forest fires and the resulting haze has become an almost annual disaster in Indonesia and Malaysia. The haze that covered much of Southeast Asia in 2015 was the worst in recent years. A total of 2.6 million hectares area of forest, peat, and other land were burnt, and the World Bank estimated the biodiversity cost to be US $295 million.
Forest fires are a regular occurrence in the Southeast Asian region. Fires cause significant damage to the ecosystem, reduce soil nutrient levels, affect water quality and increase the risk of soil erosion. The resulting air pollution or ‘haze’ also affects many countries in the region, causing thick, acrid smog to blanket Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and some parts of Philippines and Thailand. The haze disrupts economic activities, forcing schools to close. The carbon emission associated with forest fires are also significant.
Limited accessibility of roads, lack of water, lack of technical resources and the topography of peat and hill forests impede firefighting efforts, while low-cost slash and burn practices – where the forest is set on fire as economical way of clearing land for new cultivation is exacerbated by dry seasons brought on by El-Nino. Additionally, drainage of carbon-rich peat soil, is highly flammable, causing localized fires to spread rapidly, producing sizable amounts of carbon dioxide. (read more)
Why This Problem Is Valuable to Solve
Wildfires are a major source of atmospheric pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Raging fires destroy the natural habitat of many endangered species in these areas – orangutans, tigers, elephants, along with tortoises and fishes that are unfortunate enough to be caught in the blaze are asphyxiated or burned to death. Survivors eventually die from starvation, habitat degradation or are killed when they flee into human settlements. Effective methods of controlling forest fires will ensure continued biodiversity and reduced deforestation. (read more)
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