People, Environment

Indonesia Wildfires Causing SE Asia Haze

Indonesia Wildfires Causing SE Asia HazeIndonesia Wildfires Causing SE Asia Haze

The forest fires blanketing Malaysia, Singapore and large parts of Indonesia in choking haze are on track to become among the worst on record, NASA warns.

The region has suffered for years from annual bouts of smog caused by slash-and-burn farming on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

An El Nino weather system has made conditions drier than usual in Indonesia, but authorities are hoping much-needed rains will arrive within a month to douse the blazes, Australian broadcaster ABC reported.

Scientists predict the current outbreak could surpass 1997 levels when out-of-control forest fires sent pollution soaring to record highs in an environmental disaster that cost an estimated $9 billion.

If the forecasted dry conditions extend, the region could be enveloped in an even denser smog.

“Conditions in Singapore and southeastern Sumatra are tracking close to 1997,” said Robert Field, a Columbia University scientist based at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

“If the forecasts for a longer dry season hold, this suggests 2015 will rank among the most severe events on record.”

This year’s smog crisis has seen flights grounded, schools closed and tens of thousands of people seek medical treatment for respiratory problems.

Indonesia is receiving heated criticism from neighbors for not doing enough to address the problem, even as its environment ministry said it is taking legal action against four companies and investigating about 200 more.

Jakarta has also deployed more than 20,000 personnel to fight the fires through water-bombing and chemically-induced rainfall.

The NASA-linked Global Fire Emissions Database has estimated around 600 million tons of greenhouse gases have been released as a result of this year’s fires, roughly equivalent to Germany’s entire annual output.