“This is a crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions,” said Sutopo Puro Nugroho, the spokesperson for the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), who added that number of health impacts may be much higher than reported.
Also at risk are orangutans, which have been left sick and malnourished by the thousands due to the haze, while the fires turn their habitats to burned up wasteland.
Indonesia has the world’s highest rate of deforestation and is the fifth-highest greenhouse gas emitter. According to the WRI, land use like palm oil plantations make up about 61 percent of the country’s emissions—but with forest fires reaching more than 1,500 hot spots in the archipelago this week, Indonesia sent out more greenhouse gases in the past few days than the U.S., the world’s second-highest polluter, according to climate analysts.
The last time an Indonesian fire season led to record levels of air pollution was in 1997, when similar conditions led to a lack of rainfall and allowed the hot spots to burn out of control on a wide scale.
“We are on a similar trajectory to other bad years,” said Robert Field, a Columbia University scientist based at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “Conditions in Singapore and southeastern Sumatra are tracking close to 1997, with some stations having visibility less than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) on average for a week. In Kalimantan, there have been reports of visibility less than 50 meters (165 feet).”
Luhut B. Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said heavy rainfall Tuesday night has helped temper the fires, reducing the number of hot spots from more than 1,500 on Monday to 291 on Wednesday. But he added that much more rain would be necessary to get them under control.
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