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Poverty Times #1

Health and haze


In 1997 and 1998 dry weather conditions, coinciding with a severe El Niño and land-clearing activities, resulted in the most extensive forest fires on record in Indonesia. By Surendra Shrestha

In 1997 alone haze caused by air pollutants from fire spread for more than 3,200 kilometers, covering six Southeast Asian countries. In the Malaysian state of Sarawak, air pollution reached one the highest recorded indices at 839 g/m3 (levels over 301 g/m3 are equal to smoking 80 cigarettes a day). The fires in Southeast Asia put 20 million people at risk of respiratory problems and cost US$ 1,400 million in healthcare (1).

In June 2002 the environment ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations signed the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, providing the first regional arrangement to tackle haze from land and forest fires.

Surendra Shrestha
UNEP Regional Resource Center, Asia Pacific

1. Global Environment Outlook – 2000; UNEP’s Millennium Report on the Environment, UNEP, Earthscan, London, 1999.