Jakarta, 9 September 2020 – Governments in Southeast Asia have massively downplayed the health impacts of Indonesia’s forest and peatland fires according to a new report released today by Greenpeace Southeast Asia. The ‘Burning Up’ report provides a comprehensive analysis of two decades of scientific research from published sources, exposing the deadly legacy that decades of deforestation and forest fires has had on the health of people living in the region. The report also raises concerns that air pollution from forest fires could be heightening the risk of Covid-19 infections and worsening their severity.
A nationwide study carried out in the US by researchers from Harvard University released in April 2020, and another covering all 355 municipalities of the Netherlands released in June 2020, found that a small increase in air pollution was associated with a measurable increase in the COVID-19 death rate. The ‘Burning Up’ report presents the latest scientific thinking that explains why air pollution can increase people’s vulnerability to Covid-19. One reason may be that lung cells exposed to air pollution produce more of a receptor or ‘door’ called ACE2. The Covid-19 virus infects cells by using its spikes as a ‘key’ to unlock this ‘door’.
‘Burning Up’ examines the impact of Indonesia’s forest fires on its neighbours. Seven out of 10 countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been affected by the smoke haze caused by the fires. Health studies on the impact of Indonesia’s recurring transboundary pollution in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei have shown that the haze causes wide-ranging health problems including lung conditions and cardiovascular disease. Doctors have noted that such ‘preexisting conditions’ make Covid-19 more deadly.
After the devastating 2015 fire season, Indonesia’s official death toll was put at just 24 lives lost. However, in 2016, epidemiologists from Harvard and Columbia, estimated that tens of thousands of people died from smoke exposure .Scientists said that the fires of 2015 had created “perhaps the worst sustained air quality ever recorded worldwide”.
Greenpeace Indonesia’s Forest Campaigner Rusmadya Maharuddin said:
“The fires which follow the destruction of our forests and peatlands for oil palm and pulpwood plantations cause needless death and suffering. We know that Covid-19 can be deadly for people with pre-existing health conditions but after years of breathing this smoke, it feels like we are going into the fight with one arm tied behind our back. Studies show forest fire smoke is harming children’s health in Indonesia and now pediatricians are saying poor health is to blame for the country having one of the highest Covid-19 death rates among children”.
Greenpeace Thailand Country Director, Tara Buakamsri said:
“Tens of thousands of Thai people have fallen sick because of the transboundary haze from Indonesia. While the scientific community is urging countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and protect peatland, Indonesia is going in the opposite direction. Destructive plantation companies continue to flout the law and go unpunished. It is time that ASEAN leaders prioritize people’s lives over corporate interest and demand that Indonesia discloses information on who controls the land where the fires are happening. ASEAN governments can then hold foreign companies to account for the plantations they operate in Indonesia”.
Greenpeace Malaysia campaigner Heng Kiah Chun said:
“The smoke from Indonesia’s forest fires in 2015 caused thousands of deaths but back then our government said the number was zero. The dirty truth is that Malaysian plantation companies are still contributing to the deadly haze. We can’t keep putting on masks year after year. We must have a domestic Transboundary Haze Pollution Act now.”
● A collection of photos.
Sol Gosetti, International Communications Coordinator, Indonesia Forest campaign, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, sol.gosetti@greenpeace.
Therese Salvador, Media Relations Coordinator, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, firstname.lastname@example.org,