Indonesia rejects research linking 2015 forest fires with 100,000 deaths across south-east asia

Indonesia rejects research linking 2015 forest fires with 100,000 deaths across south-east asia

20 September 2016

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Indonesia —   The Indonesian Government has rejected research that found last year’s forest fires led to the deaths of more than 100,000 people across the country and also in Malaysia and Singapore.

The study by researchers from Harvard and Columbia Universities in the United States estimates 91,600 people may have died in Indonesia as a result of the 2015 fires, plus 6,500 in Malaysia and 2,200 in Singapore.

But the Indonesian Government has labelled the figures “bombastic”.

The Director General for Disease Control and Environmental Health, Mohammad Suboh, said the data was flawed.

“I don’t believe the number is that big,” he told the ABC.

The Harvard-Columbia study is based on complex modelling which takes into account satellite imaging, pollution readings and estimates of the size of particles that were inhaled from the fires.

The forest fires are deliberately lit every year by companies clearing land for palm oil and timber plantations in Sumatra and Borneo.

Last year, a thick haze from the fires choked the region.

It is believed the smoke is less this year because of a wetter-than-usual dry season.

Yuyun Indradi, a forest campaigner from Greenpeace Indonesia, said the independent study did not include infant deaths and so the figure could be higher.

“The Government of Indonesia also already mentions that the affected people from the haze is estimated [to be] around 43 million and those who suffered respiratory infections because of the haze [was] up to 500,000,” Mr Indradi said.

“It would be a more staggering number if that age group was added to this study.”

It is believed last year’s haze was the worst since 1997, due to dry conditions and a strong El Nino weather system experienced in the region.

Dr Suboh said the figures did not match the number of deaths.

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