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Regional loss after forest fires estimated at $14 billion

Staff writer ▼ | November 20, 2015
A widespread haze arising from illegal forest fires in Indonesia that blanketed vast swathes of Malaysia with hazardous thick smog is expected to lead to damages worth billions of dollars across businesses such as plantation and aviation.
Fire Indonesia
Disasters   Preliminary estimates after a widespread haze
Preliminary estimates peg the region's financial loss to around $14 billion from this year's haze crisis, including damages to the environment and health, said Herry Purnomo, a researcher at Indonesia's Center for International Forestry Research.

That dwarfs the $9 billion estimated damage throughout the region during the last most-serious bout of haze in 1997 when El Nino was also particularly strong.

Scientists have warned that this year's El Nino could produce one of the hottest weathers since records began in 1950. El Nino is the unusual warming of the Pacific Ocean that causes a shift of moist of winds away from their more typical patterns, resulting in lesser rains.

Malaysia's tourism sector, one of the country's top foreign exchange earners, has felt the heat. Malaysia Airports Holdings, which operates more than three dozen airports in the country, said passenger traffic suffered during the height of the haze crisis in October.

The company said overall passenger movements, including at the country's main gateway Kuala Lumpur International Airport fell 5.3% year-on-year in October due to runway closures and cancellations of more than a thousand flights.

Many planters in the Indonesia's Borneo and Sumatra islands deliberat, the cheapest way to do so. This year's unusually dry weather however, has in-part worsened the fires that spew thick fumes, which the wind carry across the ocean to shroud Singapore and large parts of Malaysia.

The dry weather spells, combined with the haze that cut out sunlight needed for photosynthesis and result in lower yields of oil palm fruits through the months ahead.

That risks lower production of palm oil, one of the top exports of Malaysia and Indonesia, which together control a total 85% of global palm oil output.