Indonesia set to evacuate kids in worst haze hit areas
Six navy ships and other vessels ready to help if cities are rendered unliveable by toxic haze
A massive operation, both on land and at sea, is under way to prepare for what appears to be an imminent evacuation of thousands of babies and children from their homes in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
This, as forest fires, which produce the toxic haze, continue to burn unabated despite the extensive firefighting resources dedicated to putting them out.
Indonesia yesterday put six navy ships on high alert off the waters of the two regions, which have been the worst hit by thick smoke from forest and peatland fires this year.
Together with a fleet of vessels from state-owned shipping firm PT Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia, they form the last resort in the event that cities need to be evacuated after being rendered unliveable owing to high levels of air pollution.
"We are doing this by way of a military operation for the sake of humanity," said Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.
pollution levels continued to soar in Sumatra and Kalimantan, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in various areas in the two regions hovering within the "hazardous" zone for most of this week.
Yesterday, the PSI for Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan jumped off the charts on Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency website, which has a maximum reading of 2,000 PSI. It peaked at 2,251 PSI at 4pm and never went below 1,045 PSI. In Jambi, Central Sumatra, the PSI peaked at 914 but fell to 531 at 6pm.
In Indonesia, anything above 350 is deemed hazardous.
The haze, exacerbated by an extended dry spell, has affected millions across South-east Asia.
In Thailand yesterday, air pollutant levels stayed in the unhealthy range although they dipped from the day before, when parts of the south saw the worst haze in years.
As of 3pm, the PM10 reading - which measures particles up to 10 microns in diameter - for Songkhla province was 249 per cubic m, from 369 on Thursday; in Satun, it was 203 from 273; in Yala, 142 from 172; and in Pattani, it was 149 from 216.
In Malaysia, schools were allowed to reopen yesterday except for those in Perlis, Perak and Penang, where pollution continues to worsen.
At least eight airports across the Philippines have grounded planes without instruments that will allow pilots to land and take off in low to near-zero visibility.
As a humanitarian crisis looms in Indonesia, Mr Luhut said measures to alleviate the suffering of people affected by the haze will be prioritised for infants and children.
At least four babies and a young child have died after suffering from lung infections, while more than 450,000 people have suffered from haze-related illnesses.
Mr Luhut said he is requesting more waterbombers to join the multinational assistance team fighting the fires. "We have secured nine (of the initial 15 aircraft planned) and they will be operational in 10 days or earlier," he said.
"We are also approaching Canada, the US and France (for help)."
Top on Indonesia's wishlist is still the Russian-made Beriev Be-200, capable of hauling 12,000 litres of water. "If we can get another five, that would be good," said Mr Luhut.
He was speaking to the press after a meeting with President Joko Widodo at the Presidential Palace to finalise the emergency plans yesterday.
Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture Puan Maharani, who was also at the meeting, added that emergency shelters, complete with air purifiers, are being set up at public buildings across Indonesia to offer refuge for people affected by the haze.
These are meant to be the first gathering sites in the event that conditions worsen, or for people who refuse to evacuate to the ships or cannot make it out to sea, added Mr Luhut.
"We have taken measures, but it is impossible to put out the fires over the next one to three weeks as our efforts should go hand in hand with rain."
Indonesia’s Fire Outbreaks Producing More Daily Emissions than Entire US Economy
Fire in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Rini Sulaiman/ Norwegian Embassy for Center
According to estimates released this week by Guido van der Werf on the Global Fire Emissions Database, there have been nearly 100,000 active fire detections in Indonesia so far in 2015, which since September have generated emissions each day exceeding the average daily emissions from all U.S. economic activity. Following several recent intense outbreaks of fires—in June 2013, March 2014 and November 2014—the country is now on track to experience more fires this year than it did during the 2006 fire season, one of its worst on record.
On 26 of the past 44 days (indicated in gold), daily estimated GHG emissions from fires in Indonesia surpassed average daily emissions from the entire US economy (approximately 15.95 Mt CO2 per day). A massive spike in emissions can be seen on October 14, when 4,719 fires were observed.
Fire emission estimates based on the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED4s, >www.globalfiredata.org<) updated for 2015 using NASA MODIS active fire data (Figure courtesy Guido van der Werf).
Emissions Spikes Caused by Burning Peatlands
Global Forest Watch Fires shows that more than half of these fires have occurred on peatland areas, concentrated mainly in South Sumatra, South and Central Kalimantan, and Papua. These regions continue to suffer major fires as the fire alerts density map below shows, with few signs that occurrences are diminishing.
The burning of tropical peatlands is so significant for greenhouse gas emissions because these areas store some of the highest quantities of carbon on Earth, accumulated over thousands of years. Draining and burning these lands for agricultural expansion (such as conversion to oil palm or pulpwood plantations) leads to huge spikes in greenhouse gas emissions. Fires also emit methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), but peat fires may emit up to 10 times more methane than fires occurring on other types of and.
Taken together, the impact of peat fires on global warming may be more than 200 times greater than fires on other lands.
Putting the Data in Perspective
What does a climate catastrophe look like in a real world context? Since September, daily emissions from Indonesia’s fires exceeded daily emissions from the entire U.S. economy on 26 days. To put it into perspective, the U.S. economy is20 times larger than Indonesia’s. Van der Werf pointed out in a recent report that emissions from these fires over a three-week period are also already higher than the total annual CO2 emissions of Germany.
On October 14, which had the highest number of fires to date this year with 4,719, MODIS Terra imagery reveals smoke plumes from massive peat fires on Kalimantan.
How did we compare emissions from Indonesia’s fires to US emissions?
Van der Werf’s research team developed rough estimates of the greenhouse gas emissions arising from recent Indonesia fires using estimates from past years based on satellite data and fire emissions models. They calculated that the 96,937 fires in Indonesia detected to date this year emitted roughly 1,043 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (Mt CO2eq) cumulatively. Based on the modeled relationship of fire counts to emissions, it is possible to estimate daily emissions based on the number of fires occurring on a specific day.
Using this information, it becomes apparent that on 26 of the past 44 days (up to October 14), daily estimated greenhouse gas emissions from fires in Indonesia surpassed average daily emissions from the entire US economy (approximately 15.95 Mt CO2 per day).
For Indonesia, the Climate Challenge Is a Land Management Challenge
Reducing emissions from fires is a significant challenge. Last month, Indonesia released a draft of its new climate plan, or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), ahead of the climate negotiations taking place at the Paris COP in December. The draft INDC calls for at least a 29 percent emissions reduction below business as usual by 2030— and up to 41 percent in reduction with international assistance and cooperation. While the new data shows how fires present a major challenge to reaching this goal, Indonesia can still make progress if the government focuses on better land planning, improved law enforcement, and alternatives for small farmers to burning land. If Indonesia is to meet its climate commitment, making significant investments in these areas to prevent future fires must be the first step.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post omitted the word "million" from a figure for the overall emissions of Indonesia's fires this year. The number has been updated to read "1,043 million metric tons".