Indonesian wildfire is blackening the skies of Southeast Asian countries

The Amazon is not the only rainforest destroyed by fire. A series of forest fires in Indonesia are causing much of Southeast Asia to be covered by dense smoke.

About 3,300 square kilometers of forests on Borneo and Sumatra islands caught fire. Jakarta had to deploy more than 9,000 people and 52 aircraft to cope, according to the Economist.

Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia are trying to extinguish the fire and clear the haze by creating clouds. However, the dry weather made controlling the fire extremely difficult.

Picture 1 of Indonesian wildfire is blackening the skies of Southeast Asian countries
Wildfires are threatening air quality in Indonesia.(Photo: AFP).

Haze has been blamed for causing more than 200,000 respiratory infections and closing more than 1,500 schools in Malaysia. The smoke was so thick that a series of flights had to be canceled. Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he was praying for rain.

Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry and Environment said most of the fires were caused by people. According to information from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, 80% of the fires stem from people burning forests to make palm oil plantations.

This is illegal behavior, but local officials who manage this issue are easily bribed. Without burning forests, people have to cut down trees and dispose of rubbish, leading to high costs.

The fire is especially difficult to extinguish if it occurs in peat forests. These are swamp forests covered with a peat of non-biodegradable vegetation entirely created.

When peat is dry enough to catch fire, the fire can continue to smolder underground for a long time. Peat forests also have 10 times more carbon reserves than other types of forests, making the environment seriously polluted if a fire occurs.

Picture 2 of Indonesian wildfire is blackening the skies of Southeast Asian countries
The photo recorded on September 22 the forest fire spots (red dots) and smoke screens covering many Southeast Asian countries.(Graphics: CNA).

Since taking office in 2014, President Widodo has sought to cope with the fires. In 2017, the country's Ministry of Forestry put forward a master plan to protect peat forests and prevent fires by regulating land ownership and prosecuting people who caused fires.

After the 2015 fire, police arrested 660 people. So far, the government has arrested 200 people and is investigating about 370 companies involved in the current fire.

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