A dramatic upsurge in hotspots in Kalimantan could see a return of the annual haze. Indonesia’s third-largest province declared a state of emergency from Wednesday (Jul 1) after identifying more than 700 fires.
Provincial authorities said the state of emergency will run until Sep 28. The level of emergency is at the first “alert” stage which calls for increased patrols and early extinguishing efforts.
Forest protection scaled back due to Covid-19
Efforts to combat annual fires have been complicated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The Indonesian government has scaled back protection for some of the world’s most important tropical forests. The team that identifies fires and helps put them out has seen its budget halved due to the economic impact of the coronavirus, an environment ministry official told Reuters last month.
“Fire hot spots could potentially be bigger and spread to remote peat land areas, especially in the burned areas from 2019 that are not yet restored,”Kiki Taufik, head of the Greenpeace forests campaign in Indonesia
Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil and annual fires are largely attributed to slash-and-burn practices used to clear areas for palm oil cultivation.
Haze could complicate fight against Covid-19
On a regular year, the recurring haze brings an uptick in hospital and doctor visits. But in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the return of the haze could complicate efforts to mitigate the impact of the virus.
There is growing evidence from around the world linking exposure to dirty air to increased coronavirus infections and deaths, with some suggesting it plays a significant role. Haze particles can sometimes affect the heart and lungs, especially in people who already have chronic heart or lung disease e.g. asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or heart failure.
One recent study found that even small increases in PM2.5, a common haze particle have had an outsized effect in the US. An increase of just 1 microgram per cubic metre corresponded to a 15% increase in Covid-19 deaths, according to the researchers, led by Xiao Wu and Rachel Nethery at the at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health.