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Will Indonesia's presidential candidates answer the burning question on haze?

Published on Jul 4, 2014 6:12 PM
Haze from forest fires blanketing a road in Dumai in Indonesia's Sumatra island, on June 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 

Southeast Asia is bracing for what could be the worst smoke-filled fire season on record, just as news comes out that Indonesia's forests are disappearing faster than anywhere else on earth. This does not bode well for the region. But the two men who are vying to lead the world's third largest democracy could hold the solution in the palms of their hands.

On July 5, presidential candidates Joko Widodo, popularly known as "Jokowi", and Prabowo Subianto will clash in a televised debate focusing on environmental issues. This is just as well, because until now there has been little detail and little promise of action on what is the greatest transnational threat to people's health across the region: the haze.

Poor policy, weak enforcement and irresponsible companies can largely be blamed for the haze, an environmental and public health crisis caused by massive peat and forest fires in places like Sumatra in Indonesia, where decades of forest destruction has turned areas into a giant tinderbox.

The results of scientific modelling published in the US-based academic journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 2012, suggested that 115,000 deaths annually in Southeast Asia could be attributed to smoke pollution from fires such as these. And that's not even to mention the planet-warming carbon these fires unlock from deep underground.

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