Don’t inhale: Scientists look at what the Indonesian haze is made of

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By Suzanna Anderson, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Children are forced to wear masks due to the toxic smoke from peat land fires. Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

The fires raging across Indonesia, and the hazardous smoke they create, are causing even greater damage to the environment, wildlife and communities than first imagined. While much of the recent focus has been on Sumatra—and the spillover into Singapore and Malaysia—the province of Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, faces a greater crisis.

Once called the “lungs of the world”, the rainforests and peatlands of Borneo are struggling to breathe, as they spew vast quantities of smoke into the air, amid some of the worst fires in almost 20 years. Despite major efforts to douse the flames, in this dry El Niño year, there is no telling when the fires will subside and the air will clear.

The causes of the fires are many and complex. Researchers analyzing socioeconomic and political causes and biophysical impacts say that long-term solutions and prevention require a clear strategy, with buy-in from all those involved.

Fire and haze is a key topic at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum, 5-6 December in Paris, the largest event on the sidelines of the UNFCCC COP21.


And that’s where science and robust data come in.

“It’s really important for countries in general to be able to measure what’s happening,” said Louis Verchot, Director of Forests and Environment at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). “If you can’t assess the impact, you don’t know how big of a problem you have.”

Verchot is one of 10 scientists who traveled to the provincial capital, Palangka Raya, in mid-October for a workshop with local partners, led by CIFOR’s Daniel Murdiyarso. “We are running the training with colleagues here in Palangka Raya University, with the Forest Management Unit and also the research center here,” said Murdiyarso.

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