Forest fire to (unfortunately) accelerate death in Indonesia.

(Illustration, credit: Tribunnews)

Highlighting smoke disasters caused by forest and land fires in Indonesia, an environmental research team from Harvard University and Columbia University have developed modeling that can calculate and compare the health impacts of the disaster on Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia under various scenarios.

According to the researcher from Harvard University Tina Liu, the Indonesian forest and land fires happen due to changes in land use and cover, as well as peatland fire which is rich in carbon. Other factors causing forest fires are meteorological factors, such as drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon.

Mrs. Liu recently conveyed his concern to the Head of the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), Lieutenant General Doni Monardo (15/8). The team that came with Mrs. Liu was welcomed by BNPB this August to give a presentation on the study of the health effects of the disasters of forest and peatland fires on some countries in Asia.

The study entitled “Fires, Smoke Exposure, and Public Health: An Integrative Framework for Maximizing Health Benefits from Peatland Restoration,” was published on July 24, 2019, in the international journal Geohealth. This study examines the link between forest and land management and the conversion of peatlands, haze disasters, exposure of PM 2.5 particulate pollutants to the population and the impact on public health.

A saddening fact was expressed by Mrs. Liu as she said, “The research found if forest and land fire control is not running optimally, in the long run, the number of premature deaths could reach 36 thousand people per year in all affected areas or countries during the period 2020 to 2030. Of these figures, 92 percent of early death cases are estimated to occur in Indonesia, 7 percent in Malaysia and 1 percent in Singapore. “

The study revealed that fires that occur on peatlands are the most challenging type to extinguish. As a result, the smoke disaster can last for weeks because the fire continues to haunt and burn the peatlands.

In addition, peatland fires cause the most concentrated smoke filled with PM 2.5 particulates, which can cause respiratory problems, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. The smoke disaster creates PM 2.5 exposure which can accelerate death which is well-known as premature death. The research team recommends a comprehensive strategy for reducing fires with an emphasis on navigating the peatlands.

“Stopping fires across peatlands will reduce 65 percent of emissions from fires and reduce the number of premature deaths in Indonesia by 65 percent, 73 percent in Malaysia and 70 percent in Singapore,” said Tina Liu.

The team believes that sustainable recovery and management of peatlands in Indonesia is key to mitigating climate change. Indonesia’s peatlands are able to store as much as 57 gigatons of carbon or 20 times more than fires from ordinary tropical rain forests or mineral soils.

For Indonesia, after the severe forest fires in 2015, the government has established the Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) to coordinate the restoration of peat ecosystems in seven provinces, namely Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, and Papua. Until 2018, an initial wetting of 679,901 hectares has been carried out, or around 76 percent of the target.

Doni Monardo, alongside his leadership team members, Lilik Kurniawan, Dr. Fuadi Darwis and Egy Massadiah, welcomed the results of the study. Doni said that his concern regarding this problem was that many children who are the nation’s next-generation are also exposed to any smoke-disaster-related diseases early on. This is one of the causes of stunting which is a complicated issue in Indonesia today.”

Earlier in 2016, the Harvard and Columbia University research team also conducted a study titled “Public health impacts of severe haze in Equatorial Asia in September-October 2015: Demonstration of a new framework for informing fire management strategies to reduce downward smoke exposure”.

The study starkly stated that there were 100,300 fatalities in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore caused by forest and land fires. An estimated 91,600 deaths were in Indonesia, 6,500 deaths in Malaysia, and 2,200 deaths in Singapore.

In general, forest and land fires erode and degrade social, economic, and even biological lives and activities. The total loss in 2015 was 16.1 billion USD. Thick smoke disrupts air transportation. Many flights had to be delayed or canceled. While in land, river, lake and sea transportation, there are several cases of accidents that cause loss of lives and property. Wildlife languishes, for sure. Ecosystems of flora and fauna and biosphere reserves have to suffer. (*)

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