Air pollution reducing lifespans in south-east Asia

Air pollution reducing lifespans in south-east Asia

Published: Mar 29, 2019, 4:08 pm IST
Updated : Mar 29, 2019, 4:08 pm IST
Worsening air pollution reducing lifespans in Indonesia, which has lesser air pollution as compared to countries like India, Bangladesh, and China.

Environment Ministry responds to deforestation claim

Environment Ministry responds to deforestation claim

March 28, 2019

Khuon Narim / Khmer Times


Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra yesterday responded to public criticism blaming deforestation as the major factor for high temperatures in the Kingdom.

In response, Mr. Pheaktra said high temperatures are caused by climate change and are also affecting other parts of the world.

“Global warming is caused by greenhouse gases and pollution,” he said. “Please do not think that it is only caused by deforestation because the earth’s temperature can increase due to development in our cities. There are many factors contributing to climate change that should be considered.”

“The Environment Ministry has told other institutions to tell people to save water during the dry season because many sources are drying fast,” Mr. Pheaktra added. “We called on the public to join together to prevent forest fires. We also cooperated with communities by instructing them not to burn rubbish, which contributes to climate change.”

When asked about forest fires, Mr. Pheaktra said when compared to neighboring countries in the region, Cambodia has had 20, noting that Thailand has 100 hotspots, and Laos and Myanmar have 200.

“There has been no report of property damage from forest fires,” he said. “Some farmlands were damaged from forest fires.”

Health Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandin said the ministry has yet to receive any reports regarding the impact of the heat on the health of citizens.

“We have seen some health effects but that was because the patients were not practising good hygiene,” Ms. Vandin said. “For example rashes, rashes are not caused by the weather. Rashes happen because of a lack of hygiene.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered officials to dig wells and transport water to areas severely hit by shortages of water.

“We can control the situation. The heat has not caused an emergency,” Mr. Siphan said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of farmers in Battambang province’s Banan district are battling drought as their crops wither away.

Has Sarath, a 63-year-old farmer, recently told Khmer Times that times are tough.

“There is a serious shortage of water this year, there has been no rain since the end of October,” Mr. Sarath said. “This pond is almost dry and the water is not enough to sustain villagers because of the extremely hot weather.”

“Because of this, one hectare of crops cannot even yield one sack of rice,” he added.

According to a forecast by the Water Resources and Meteorology Ministry on March 12, temperatures in the Kingdom is expected to increase to up to 42 degrees Celsius in May.

“In April and May, the weather will be extremely hot, and sometimes it will reach 40-42 degrees Celsius, especially in the northwestern low lands and the northern plains,” the ministry said.



Officials risking public health by playing down smog

Officials risking public health by playing down smog

national March 28, 2019


After Chiang Mai and several other provinces in the North faced dangerous levels of PM2.5 for three weeks in a row, provincial Governor Supachai Iamsuwan yesterday promised to implement haze mitigation measures suggested by agencies, academics, and the public sector. He also ordered the creation of safety zones in every district of the province to provide temporary shelters for vulnerable groups.

Supachai said the first safety zone would be established at Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Centre, which can accommodate up to 1,000 people. An air purifying system is being installed, while more safety zones will be designated in all 25 districts of the province.

However, Dr. Rungsrit Kanjanavanit, a medical lecturer at Chiang Mai University, lamented that despite added measures to mitigate air pollution, these efforts were neither strong enough to properly protect the health of local citizens in the North, nor would they solve the smog problem in the long run.

“It is a good start in terms of efforts to mitigate the seasonal smog crisis in the North. The Chiang Mai Provincial Authority has shown its intention to work with all stakeholders and accepted suggestions from academics and the public sector on solutions to relieve the smog situation and protect people’s health,” Rungsrit said.

 “But considering the seriousness of the current situation and the length of time citizens in the North are being exposed to toxic air, the authorities’ response is grossly insufficient and also too late to deal with the problem at hand.”
According to the PM2.5 daily average level database at the Pollution Control Department (PCD), the northern region has been suffering from dangerous PM2.5 levels for nearly a month. The annual smog season has already descended on the North with the hot and arid weather of summer, while Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are among the hardest hit provinces by the smog.

In Chiang Mai, PCD’s air quality monitoring system showed the city is choking on seriously harmful levels of PM2.5. The PM2.5 daily average in the city has remained above 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air for six days in a row, peaking at 282 micrograms last Friday.

The situation is even worse in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district, where the PM2.5 level has not dropped below 100 micrograms since March 13.

According to Thailand’s air quality safety standard, a daily average level of PM2.5 higher than 50 micrograms is considered harmful to health, though the international safe limit for PM2.5 is 25 micrograms.

Rungsrit stressed that the serious PM2.5 crisis in the northern provinces had left local people, especially groups sensitive to air pollution and poor people in rural areas, facing a grave threat to health. Prolonged exposure to PM2.5 can lead to serious diseases such as asthma, stroke, or even cancer.

“The authorities are risking many people’s lives with their delays and ineffectiveness in taking action against smog. In order to protect the image of the city, they are playing down the situation instead of prioritizing the health and well-being of the people,” he said.

“The authorities need to change this poor habit and alert the people about the threat to their lives by informing the public with real-time air quality measurement and educating people about the effects of air pollution.” He added that the governor’s plan to establish air pollution refuge centers in Chiang Mai was a step forward to protect those who cannot afford air purifiers. However, he insisted that this is just a short-term measure and both local authorities and central government must prioritize sustainably tackling the seasonal smog problem by working with all related stakeholders and governments of neighboring countries.


Twelve named suspects as helicopters fight raging flames in Riau

Twelve named suspects as helicopters fight raging flames in Riau

PUBLISHED MAR 26, 2019, 12:26 PM SGT

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The Riau Police have named 12 people suspects in land and forest fire cases in Riau province, where wildfires have destroyed 2,719ha of land in the past three months.

The police arrested six people in Rokan Hilir, Bengkalis, Meranti Islands, Pekanbaru and Dumai from January to February, according to Riau police chief inspector General Widodo Eko Prihastopo.

“Six others were caught red-handed burning land to clear land,” Gen Widodo said on Monday (March 25).

All 12 suspects were farmers and residents.

Ten of the suspects are currently under investigation while another two were handed to prosecutors.

“All are individual suspects. None of them were corporations,” Gen Widodo said.

The police, he said, would not hesitate to take action if they found evidence of the involvement of a corporation.

The head coordinator of the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), Mr. Edwar Sanger, said the wildfires were likely to keep spreading, as the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Pekanbaru was still detecting hot spots.

Mr. Edwar said Bengkalis was the hardest hit regency with 1,263ha of burned land. Most districts in the regency have experienced wildfires since early this year.

However, the most severe wildfires were seen on Rupat Island, where peatland was on fire throughout February, causing thick smoke that spread to the city of Dumai on the Sumatran mainland.

Aside from Bengkalis, severe wildfires were reported in the east coast areas of Rokan Hilir (407ha), Meranti (222.4ha) and Dumai (192.25ha).

Moreover, Mr. Edwar revealed that wildfires had ravaged 314.5ha of land in Siak Regency, 107.1ha in Indragiri Hilir, 64.5ha in Indragiri Hulu, 37.75ha in Pekanbaru, 26.6ha in Kampar, 5ha in Kuantan Singingi and 2ha in Rokan Hulu.

Riau Police spokesperson senior commander Sunarto said the Rokan Hilir police were handling three suspects who were caught red-handed burning 7.05ha of land.

The Bengkalis police, similarly, named one person a suspect for allegedly starting a fire that hit 0.5ha of land.

Five suspects were being handled by the Dumai police in a case involving 12.5ha of burned land.

The Meranti police named two people suspects for allegedly burning 3.2ha of land while the Pekanbaru police named one other a suspect for allegedly burning 0.5ha.

“One case in Dumai and another in Meranti Islands have been handed over to prosecutors for further investigation,” Mr Sunarto said.

Concerns over forest fires have grown recently, with the country having experienced an increase in damages cause by fires from 11,127ha of burned land and forest in 2017 to more than 30,000ha in 2018, Environment and Forestry Ministry data show.

The Indonesian military, the police, the BPBD, and the Manggala Agni fire department are attempting to put out the flames using aerial firefighting helicopters.

“The National Disaster Mitigation Agency already lent us three helicopters. We received three (more) from private parties and one more will be lent to us.” Mr. Edwar said as quoted by Antara news agency.

He added that the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the police and the military would also lend one helicopter each to help with the efforts.

Sumatra and Kalimantan experienced devastating fires in 2015, with more than 1 million ha of forest destroyed and dozens of people killed.

A prolonged dry season caused by an especially strong El Niño effect was blamed for the fires. However, environmentalists and rights activists have said they believe slash-and-burn land clearing for oil palm and other plantations is the real cause.

The government has taken strong measures against forest fires ever since, including fining companies. However, it has yet to issue court verdicts in any wildfire cases involving companies.


Dialogue and discussion on the agenda “SAVE TROPICAL PEATLANDS” between a delegation from Indonesia and the Kyoto University (Japan, 22-24 March 2019)


Japan, 22-24 March 2019


Integrated Training and Education in Forest and Land Fires Phase I, 2019 Year of RFMRC-SEA Office and Laboratory Forest and Land Fires Dept of Silviculture, (Bogor, 13 March 2019)

Bogor, 13 March 2019
Robi Deslia Waldi S.Hut


The Integrated Training and Education in Forest and Land Phase II held by the Indonesian Republican prosecutors’ education and training body aims to provide information regarding forest and land fires that occur and their enforcement.


Sarawak hit by 176 forest fires in 21 days

Sarawak hit by 176 forest fires in 21 days


MIRI: A total of 176 forest fire cases were reported throughout Sarawak in the span of 21 days, affecting a total coverage area of 109 hectares.

Apart from Miri, forest fires were also reported in Bintulu, Kuching, and Sarikei believed to be due to the hot and dry weather affecting the state.

A spokesman for the Sarawak Fire and Rescue Operations Centre said this marked an increase in the number of forest fire cases since early last month.

Last month, a total of 19 bush fires were reported.

“The extreme weather means that fires can easily spread and are hard to contain.

“As such, we are appealing to the people to refrain from conducting any form of open burning,” said the department in a statement.

The fires, which has so far centered around Sarawak’s northern region, has also led to reports of thick haze due to the smoke.


Thailand’s North choking on toxic haze from fires

Thailand’s North choking on toxic haze from fires

Fire burns almost 1,700 hectares of land, forests in Riau as haze spreads

Fire burns almost 1,700 hectares of land, forests in Riau as haze spreads

PUBLISHED MAR 10, 2019, 8:42 PM SGT

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – A forest fire in Indonesia’s Riau province that has been burning for more than a week has expanded as haze spreads to more cities in the area.

The Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD Riau) revealed that, as of Sunday (March 10), the fire had spread across nearly 1,700 hectares of land from a little over 1,100 ha on Feb 28, causing smoke in Pekanbaru and Dumai.

BPBD Riau acting head Ahmadsyah Harrofie said Bengkalis regency was currently the worst affected area, as quoted by

Forest fires are still spreading throughout Dumai, Meranti Islands and five other regencies. Ahmadsyah said the agency’s task force was continuing its attempt to extinguish fires in all areas.

Riau Forest Rescue Network (Jikalahari) coordinator Made Ali added that 63 out of 139 hot spots this week could potentially further ignite a fire.

However, he said that the air condition in Pekanbaru remained “good”.

According to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), the air pollution standard index (ISPU) in Pekanbaru and Dumai is still at an “acceptable” level.


Of the world’s 100 most polluted cities, 99 are in Asia

Of the world’s 100 most polluted cities, 99 are in Asia

The world’s filthiest air is in India, but weighted by population it’s worse in Bangladesh. China’s notoriously unbreathable air is improving, while Jakarta is in danger of out-smogging Beijing, data from air monitoring stations all over the world has revealed.

Of the 100 most polluted cities in the world in 2018, 99 were in Asia, according to a global report on annual air pollution levels by Beijing-based monitoring firm AirVisual and environmental group Greenpeace published on Thursday.

Half of the world’s 50 most polluted cities are in India, and 22 are in China, with Pakistani and Bangladeshi cities making up the rest. In the top 100 smoggiest cities, 33 are in India, and 57 are in China.

The world’s largest country, however, has seen improvements in air quality in 33 of its dirtiest cities, thanks to emissions regulations and extensive air quality monitoring. Another 24 Chinese cities saw smoggier skies in 2018.

Eleven Indian cities in the top 100 have welcomed cleaner skies this year, while air quality has become smoggier in eight of them, where a cocktail of bad air from traffic, industry, and agricultural and waste burning contributes to the haze.

However, 14 of India’s most polluted cities had no data for 2017.

Gurgaon, also known as Gurugram, a city southwest of India’s capital, New Delhi, has the world’s most polluted air, with the annual average level of PM2.5—small particles considered the most dangerous to human health—more than 13 times higher than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) air quality guidelines of 10μg/m3.

Average concentrations of pollution in Chinese cities fell by 12 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Yan Boquillod, director of air quality monitoring at AirVisual, told Eco-Business that the report’s standout air quality performer was China’s capital.

“Beijing has seen a dramatic drop in air pollution in recent years, particularly in the winter months, largely as a result of factory closures,” he said.

Beijing has seen PM2.5 levels drop from ‘unhealthy’ to the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ between 2017 and 2018.

Four years ago, an air quality reading of around 200 µg/m³ was accepted as “normal” in Beijing, noted Boquillod, who is based in Beijing. In 2018, pollution dropped to roughly a fifth of that level.

However, Beijing air is still almost six times over WHO’s guidelines, and in February this year saw PM2.5 levels climb to a five-year high, up 28 percent year on year.

Hold your breath, you’re in Jakarta

In Southeast Asia, Jakarta registered the most polluted air in the sub-region last year. The Indonesian capital saw air quality worsen by 53 percent in a year, one of the biggest drops in a report that covered 3,000 cites all over the world.

Jakarta’s 2018 pollution levels, four and half times over WHO’s a target, were just 12 percent lower than in Beijing’s. The city, which has more coal-fired power stations near it than any capital city in the world and notoriously bad road congestion, hosted the Asian Games in 2018, and athletes collapsed due to the smog.

Hanoi, in the industrial north of Vietnam, is Southeast Asia’s second most polluted city, while three out of the five most polluted places in Southeast Asia are in Thailand.

A map of India and Southeast Asia’s air quality from AirVisual Earth on 7 March 2018. Warmer colors indicate heavier air pollution. In Sumatra, air pollution is a result of forest fires.

Yeb Sano, the executive director, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said that burning fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—was the most common culprit of global air pollution, which results in an estimated seven million premature deaths and costs the world’s economy US$225 billion a year.

A ranking of countries by air pollution. Source: AirVisual

Sano pointed out that climate change was making air pollution worse, by changing atmospheric conditions and exacerbating forest fires.

“Local and national governments can help tackle the effects of air pollution by providing adequate monitoring and reporting infrastructure,” Sano noted.

“What we need to see is our leaders thinking seriously about our health and the climate by looking at a fair transition out of fossil fuels while telling us clearly the level of our air quality, so that steps can be taken to tackle this health and climate crisis,” he said.