by Allanah Leahy – EM TV World News
Described as the ‘biggest environmental crime of the 21st century’, Indonesia’s polluted haze is now affecting several Southeast Asian countries.
Malaysia, Singapore, Southern Thailand and the Philippines are some of the countries affected by the haze, caused by farmers illegally burning large forest areas, to cheaply clear land.
Dozens of Indonesians have reportedly died as a result of the haze, which started in late June, affecting at least six out of 10 countries in Southeast Asia and several states of emergency in Indonesia.
“Our sister does have a history of asthma, but with the situation of that haze getting worse, it became a trigger and worsened the condition of our sister until she passed away,” Evilita, a relative of a haze victim, told Reuters.
Authorities are struggling to maintain order with limited visibility, which is the common cause of haze-related deaths, due to increased road accidents.
Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency spokesman called the haze “a crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions”, noting that 99 per cent of the fires were lit intentionally.
The haze occurs annually in result of forest and peat clearing, although the dry weather brought on from El Nino has made this year’s particularly severe.
Indonesia accepted international help last month, requesting help from Malaysia’s Bombardier aircraft, for its effectiveness.
“The National Security Council has suggested for the maritime authorities, who own the aircraft, to deploy it to Indonesia after it has been serviced, so that it can continue to help (put out the fires),” said Wan Jaafar , Malaysia’s Resources and Environment Minister.
Authorities arrested seven company executives connected with the illegal fires last month.
Damage from the fires and haze is estimated at US$14 billion, up from 9 billion in 1997. Indonesian President Joko Widodo however said the haze problem may take up to three years before it is completely under control.