Science discussion on “Peatland fires, haze and health” at the Global Landscapes Forum: Peatlands Matter in Jakarta. Photo credit: CIFOR

Countering the health effects of peat fires

Indonesia – For the past 360 million years, waterlogged land areas of our planet have been covered with the dense black decay of decomposed vegetation known as peat. Some peatlands have taken more than a thousand centuries to form, becoming the world’s most efficient carbon sinks.

However, in less than an hour, this highly-combustible soil can be burned and destroyed, releasing a toxic haze of carbonaceous gases and particles that can devastate both landscapes and the health of communities living within them.

In addition to producing more smoke than normal fires, burning at lower temperatures, and being extremely difficult to extinguish, peat fires – according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – are also not very well-understood.

In an effort to heighten the general level of understanding, a panel of speakers from the United Nations, a Jakarta tech lab, and global research and aid organizations sat down together at the Peatland fires, haze and health science discussion at the Global Landscapes Forum: Peatland Matters thematic event held in Jakarta on May 18. Panelists discussed various efforts underway in Indonesia’s 14 fire-prone peat districts to counter the harmful effects of haze.

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