More than 100,000 land and forest fires in Indonesia have engulfed the country in a hazardous smoke, leading to an environmental and public health crisis that has affected every element of society in this sprawling Southeast Asian nation. Tens of thousands of people have been declared victims of respiratory conditions because of the smoke and the fires alone are now emitting as much carbon dioxide on any given day as emitted by the entire U.S. economy in the same time period.
Widespread fires are nothing new in Indonesia, where farmers regularly burn forests and peatlands to make way to produce palm oil, a key ingredient in a variety of food and consumer products, but experts say the scale of the damage is worse than it has been in a decade. This week Indonesian President Joko Widodo cut short his trip to the U.S. to deal with the problem.
“It’s not just an environmental issue. It’s a public health disaster as well,” said Nigel Sizer, global director of the World Resources Institute’s forests program. “When air is this poor quality, economic activity almost grinds to a halt.”