Agricultural fires in Southeast Asia linked to 100,000 premature deaths

A series of fires in Indonesia in 2015 to clear land for agriculture caused an estimated 100,000 premature deaths in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. That’s according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), in collaboration with colleagues from Columbia University.

According to an August 20, 2016 New York Times article, the fires were deliberately set in August 2015 to clear land for palm oil plantations and other agricultural uses. By the fall, smoke from the fires blanketed large portions of Southeast Asia, closing schools and businesses, grounding planes, and forcing tens of thousands of people to seek medical treatment for respiratory illness. The researchers say exposure to fine particle pollution from burning forests, in particular carbon-rich peatlands, is responsible for premature deaths across the region.

To mitigate the impact of future smoke events, the researchers developed a model framework which could help governments and policymakers in Southeast Asia identify, in near real time, the fires with the highest potential to cause damage to human health.

Harvard Chan School authors included Samuel Myers, Jonathan Buonocore, and Joel Schwartz.

Read the SEAS article, Smoke from 2015 Indonesian fires may have caused 100,000 premature deaths

Learn more

“Smoke waves” will affect millions in coming decades (Harvard Chan School News)

Unhealthy environment blamed for quarter of deaths worldwide (Harvard Chan School News)