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About 100,000 people died in Indonesia due to Fires in 2015, say US Researchers

At the height of the fire season in October 2015, Indonesia’s National Board for Disaster Management blamed the resulting haze for killing 10 people and making thousands sick

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Police and firefighters try to extinguish a forest fire in a village in Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia, Aug. 28, 2016. VOA
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October 2, 2016: Haze from thousands of peatland and timber fires in Indonesia last year may lead to as many as 100,000 deaths, U.S. researchers claimed in a report issued.

Scientists from Harvard and Columbia universities used new analytical tools, satellite observations, and population information to locate the source of fires, gauge the toxicity of emissions and “estimate the resulting morbidity and premature mortality in downwind populations,” according to a study published in Environmental Research Letters.

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“We estimate that haze in 2015 resulted in 100,300 excess deaths across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, more than double those of the 2006 event, with much of the increase due to fires in Indonesia’s South Sumatra Province,” said the study, titled “Public Health Impacts of the Severe Haze in Equatorial Asia in September-October 2015: Demonstration of a New Framework for Informing Fire Management Strategies to Reduce Downwind Smoke Exposure.”

A combination of the El Niño weather phenomenon and positive Indian Ocean Dipole (pIOD), where the western portion of the ocean becomes warmer than the eastern portion, promoted drought in September and October 2015 and greatly enhanced fire danger in the region, the study said.

2015 saw the worst Southeast Asia haze crisis since 1997, but since modern satellite technology was not available then, researchers compared 2015 to “another large smoke episode” in 2006 that caused 37,000 excess deaths, according to the study.

“The degraded peatlands that typically burn during such episodes contain significant combustible organic material and so release large amounts of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the leading cause of global pollution-related mortality…,” the study said.

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“As in previous episodes, the prevailing winds in 2015 transported the smoke to densely populated areas across Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula, including Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.”

Child mortality not counted

However, most of the deaths occurred in Indonesia, according to the study.

Using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for unhealthy air, and based on projected smoke exposure in 2015, the researchers concluded that “excess deaths” linked to the 2015 haze could be 91,600 in Indonesia, 6,500 in Malaysia and 2,200 in Singapore.

The projection ignored potential child deaths. “We also focus only on adult mortality due to lack of knowledge on the effects of air pollution on child mortality, even though impacts on children are likely significant,” the study said.

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Across Indonesia, fires are used to burn agricultural residue, clear forests, or prepare land for plantations. Satellite imaging showed that many of the fires in Sumatra were linked to timber operations and peatlands, although peat fires can be difficult to spot.

“Peat fires can smolder in the subsurface for weeks to months after ignition, often at temperatures too low to be detected accurately from space,” the report said.

At the height of the fire season in October 2015, Indonesia’s National Board for Disaster Management blamed the resulting haze for killing 10 people and making thousands sick.

“The long-term impact could also be serious illness such as lung cancer. The government needs to anticipate potential secondary hazards like this,” Nanang Subana, director of Oxfam in Indonesia, told BenarNews in October 2015.

‘Real action’ needed

In an angry reaction to the numbers contained in the study Monday, environmental group Greenpeace said failing to prevent further deaths would be criminal.

“As last year’s fires raged, the Indonesian government said that 43 million people were exposed to smoke across the country, and half a million suffered from smoke-related respiratory illness. Now that we know the scale of the death toll, failure to act immediately to stem the loss of life would be a crime,” said Yuyun Indradi, a Greenpeace forest campaigner in Indonesia.

“Now fires are back again. If nothing changes, this killer haze will carry on taking a terrible toll, year after year. Industry and government must take real action to stop forest clearing and peatland drainage for plantations,” he said.

Dr. Nursyam Ibrahim, deputy director of the West Kalimantan chapter of the Indonesian Medical Association, said the elderly and children were most at risk from haze. Kalimantan, or Indonesian Borneo, is another key area for agricultural burning.

“The greatest impact from breathing particles from peat fire smoke falls on vulnerable groups such as the elderly, pregnant women, babies and children. What is at stake is a decline in the quality of Indonesia’s future human resources,” he was quoted as saying by Greenpeace.

“We are the doctors who care for the vulnerable groups exposed to toxic smoke in every medical center, and we know how awful it is to see the disease symptoms experienced by babies and children in our care,” he said. (Benar News)

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  • Anubhuti Gupta

    Death by fire is one of the worst ways to die, not only because its painful but it’s also preventable .This needs people’s attention ASAP

  • Antara

    This is utterly tragic!

Next Story

Aadhaar Helpline Mystery: French Security Expert Tweets of doing a Full Disclosure Tomorrow about Code of the Google SetUP Wizard App

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Google's new tool can help you make our planet healthy. Wikimedia Commons

Google’s admission that it had in 2014 inadvertently coded the 112 distress number and the UIDAI helpline number into its setup wizard for Android devices triggered another controversy on Saturday as India’s telecom regulator had only recommended the use of 112 as an emergency number in April 2015.

After a large section of smartphone users in India saw a toll-free helpline number of UIDAI saved in their phone-books by default, Google issued a statement, saying its “internal review revealed that in 2014, the then UIDAI helpline number and the 112 distress helpline number were inadvertently coded into the SetUp wizard of the Android release given to OEMs for use in India and has remained there since”.

Aadhaar Helpline Number Mystery: French security expert tweets of doing a full disclosure tomorrow about Code of the Google SetUP Wizard App, Image: Wikimedia Commons.

However, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended only in April 2015 that the number 112 be adopted as the single emergency number for the country.

According to Google, “since the numbers get listed on a user’s contact list, these get  transferred accordingly to the contacts on any new device”.

Google was yet to comment on the new development.

Meanwhile, French security expert that goes by the name of Elliot Alderson and has been at the core of the entire Aadhaar controversy, tweeted on Saturday: “I just found something interesting. I will probably do full disclosure tomorrow”.

“I’m digging into the code of the @Google SetupWizard app and I found that”.

“As far as I can see this object is not used in the current code, so there is no implications. This is just a poor coding practice in term of security,” he further tweeted.

On Friday, both the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) as well as the telecom operators washed their hand of the issue.

While the telecom industry denied any role in the strange incident, the UIDAI said that he strange incident, the UIDAI said that some vested interests were trying to create “unwarranted confusion” in the public and clarified that it had not asked any manufacturer or telecom service provider to provide any such facility.

Twitter was abuzz with the new development after a huge uproar due to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman R.S. Sharma’s open Aadhaar challenge to critics and hackers.

Ethical hackers exposed at least 14 personal details of the TRAI Chairman, including mobile numbers, home address, date of birth, PAN number and voter ID among others. (IANS)

Also Read: Why India Is Still Nowhere Near Securing Its Citizens’ Data?