Some parts of Indonesia are looking a little bit post-apocalyptic right now. There’s a haze that’s settled over Southeast Asia — it’s so big you can even see it from space.
It’s all because of several massive fires, some of which were started intentionally in order to clear vegetation for farming. It’s a practice that’s common in Indonesia, but this year the fires have gotten out of control.
Some schools and airports have shut down in what some are predicting will be the worst fires on record for the region.
The BBC’s Rebecca Henschke filed a series of reports from the heart of the Indonesian fires and spoke with Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal.
How the fires have affected the country’s economy and agricultural land:
It’s pretty much brought a standstill to many of the economies in Sumatra and Kalimantan…and you’re also talking about an impact in the long-term on the micro-economy. Scientists are saying that bees that pollinate fruits and vegetables could be wiped out. And after the 1997 fires, there was…huge crop failures across Kalimantan and Sumatra. And it’s also devastated a lot of palm oil plantations.
Why the fires have become a growing issue:
Farmers in Indonesia have cleared land by slashing and burning for generations. It’s never been a major problem until in recent years. Huge areas of peatland forest has been handed over to large corporations and companies. These concessions have been granted on peatland, which is like wetland forest. And once these forests are cut down and they’re drained with canals, scientists who study the peatland say the peat becomes very flammable. It’s almost like coal. Once the peatland burns, it burns deep underground. So when you’re traveling around these areas, you don’t see huge flames, you only see them every now and then when a tree is taken down. But the fire is burning up to 3 or 4 meters underground. And they can last, these fires, for months.
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