Information on Fire and Haze

What is HAZE? HAZE consists of sufficient smoke, dust, moisture, and vapour suspended in air to impair visibility. HAZE pollution can be said to be “transboundary” if its density and extent is so great at source that it remains at measurable levels after crossing into another country’s air space.

How does HAZE impact VISIBILITY? HAZE is caused by particulate matter from many sources including smoke, road dust, and other particles emitted directly into the atmosphere, as well as particulate matter formed when gaseous pollutants react in the atmosphere. These particles often grow in size as humidity increases, further impairing VISIBILITY. Sources hundreds or even thousands of miles away can contribute to VISIBILITY problems at remote locations. VISIBILITY often is measured as the farthest distance from which a person can see a landscape feature.

How about HAZE resulted from LAND AND FOREST FIRES? HAZE originating from large-scale forest and land fires is characterised by a high concentration of particulate matter, which, among other effects, reduces visibility. Due to the specific emission characteristics of land and forest fires, HAZE is predominately made of very fine particles with a diameter of less than 10 mm. While coarse particles flush out of the atmosphere within several hours up to a day, fine particles have the longest residence time (up to weeks) in the atmosphere and travel extensive distances (hundreds to thousands of kilometres). Their elimination out of the atmosphere is mainly due to rain.

What is PARTICULATE MATTER? PARTICULATE MATTER comes from a variety of sources. “Coarse” particles are larger than 2.5 micrometers and generally come from sources such as vehicles traveling on unpaved roads, materials handling, crushing and grinding operations such as cement manufacturing, and combustion sources. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers (0.0004 inch) in diameter are known as “fine” particles. Fine particles result from fuel combustion in motor vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities, residential fireplaces, woodstoves, wildfires, and forest burning.

What are the air POLLUTION STANDARDS for particulate matter? US EPA developed PSI to provide accurate, timely and easily understandable information about daily air quality. The PSI value gives an indication of the air quality and health effects as shown below:

Air Pollution and Health Effects

PSI

Health Category

Health Effects

Preventive Measures

Up to 50 Good None None
51 – 100 Moderate None or limited for the general population Not necessary
101 – 200 Unhealthy Moderate symptoms for sensitive individuals, followed by irritation in healthy population Individuals with light heart and respiratory problems have to reduce physical movement and outdoor activities
201 – 300 Very unhealthy Significant symptoms as well as drop in tolerated body movement or exercise in heart and lung patients; general symptoms among healthy population Aged and sick individuals have to stay indoors and reduce physical exercise; the public has to avoid excessive outdoor activity
Above 300 Hazardous Appearance of certain early diseases in addition to clear and significant problems as well as decrease in tolerated body movement or exercise for health population index of more than 400 could potentially cause premature death for sick people and the aged if not treated properly; healthy individuals will have symptoms that restrict normal activity Aged and sick individuals have to stay indoors and avoid physical activity; at index level of more than 400, people have to avoid physical outdoor activities; everybody has to stay indoors, close all windows and doors, and limit physical activity
Source: World Health Organization

PSI is widely used in many countries, such as United States, Australia, Hongkong, Singapore, and Taiwan.

How does HAZE impact the HEALTH? Particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in size, including fine particles less than 2.5 micrometers, can penetrate deep into the lungs. In recent studies, exposure to particulate pollution – either alone or with other air pollutants – has been linked with premature death, difficult breathing, aggravated asthma, increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits, and increased respiratory symptoms in children. People most at risk from exposure to fine particulate matter are children, the elderly, and people with chronic respiratory problems. According to the Economic and Environment Programme in Southeast Asia and WWF, the haze of 1997 cost the people of Southeast Asia some USD1.4 billion, mostly in short-term health costs. More than 40,000 persons were hospitalised for respiratory and other haze-related ailments. The long-term impacts on health of exposed children and elderly are unknown.

What are other adverse impacts of HAZE? The effect of haze on light and visibility has an impact on economic production (manufacturing and agricultural), transport, tourism, etc. while haze-caused accidents result in loss of lives. Several gaseous compounds in the haze are likely to affect global environment and climate. Transport was also severely disrupted by haze. Closures of airports and cancellation of flights were common in the region. Economic losses from such disruptions, and aircraft and maritime accidents were compounded by steep declines in tourist arrivals.

Sources and For Further Reading

  • Fire, Smoke, and Haze: The ASEAN Response Strategy (Chapters 1 and 2) reviews impacts of haze pollution on health, visibility, transport, global warning and ozone concentration, and provides some facts and figures of the haze effects.
  • HAZE GUIDE by Angelika Heil (IFFM/GTZ) provides information and recommendations to people at risk from haze exposure.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Haze

How serious is the transboundary haze pollution problem in ASEAN?

Major episodes of fire and transboundary haze pollution occurred in the region during the1980s and 1990s. The blaze of 1997-1998, which affected Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, was among the most damaging in recorded history. More than 9 million hectares of land were burnt, 6.5 million of which were forested areas. The damage was estimated at more than USD 9 billion in terms of economic, social and environmental losses, including the release of an estimated 1-2 billion tonnes of carbon. More recently, transboundary haze pollution has also become a serious problem in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Thailand. In northern Thailand, land and forest fires caused the air quality to deteriorate to unhealthy levels during the dry season of 2006 and 2007.

More recently in 2015, in the southern ASEAN region, prolonged dry weather conditions from mid-August 2015 led to escalations in hotspot activities in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Transboundary smoke haze from the hotspots affected many parts of the southern ASEAN region as well as some areas in the northern ASEAN region. The region experienced unprecedented severity and massive geographical spread of the smoke haze affecting various ASEAN countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the southern part of Philippines and the northern part of Lao PDR. Millions of people were affected by the haze, which included 19 deaths in Indonesia. Further, peatland mismanagement had exacerbated the situation, and caused traditional slash-and-burn to spread uncontrollably across Sumatra and Kalimantan. In addition to substantive efforts by the Government of Indonesia to address the land and forest fires and the associated smoke haze, collaborative efforts were also undertaken by Indonesia, the neighbouring ASEAN countries and the international community.

Fires in peat soils have been identified as a major contributor to transboundary haze pollution in the region. 60% of the world’s tropical peatlands are found in Southeast Asia,covering an estimated area of 24 million hectares. Of this, Indonesia has about 70% of the region’s peatlands. Drainage and unsustainable management practices have made peatlands vulnerable to fire. Peat soil, which is comprised of partly decomposed plant material, can easily burn as soon as the water is drained out and the peat dries up. Peat fires are difficult to suppress as they occur under the ground. Peat fires also produce very thick smoke haze and release a high amount of carbon. The land and forest fires in 1997-1998, 2002, and 2005 in Southeast Asia have destroyed more than 3 million hectares of peatlands.

Why is the ASEAN region susceptible to haze pollution?

Fires in peat soils have been identified as a major contributor to transboundary haze pollution in the region. 60% of the world’s tropical peatlands are found in Southeast Asia,covering an estimated area of 24 million hectares. Of this, Indonesia has about 70% of the region’s peatlands. Drainage and unsustainable management practices have made peatlands vulnerable to fire. Peat soil, which is comprised of partly decomposed plant material, can easily burn as soon as the water is drained out and the peat dries up. Peat fires are difficult to suppress as they occur under the ground. Peat fires also produce very thick smoke haze and release a high amount of carbon. The land and forest fires in 1997-1998, 2002, and 2005 in Southeast Asia have destroyed more than 3 million hectares of peatlands.

How is ASEAN tackling the haze issue?

ASEAN Member States have been undertaking joint efforts in monitoring, preventing and mitigating transboundary haze pollution resulting from land and forest fires, guided by the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (or ASEAN Haze Agreement) that was adopted in June 2002 and entered into force in November 2003. Progress has been made in implementing this Agreement, including the implementation of the Standard Operating Procedures for Monitoring, Assessment and Joint Response; implementation of the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy (APMS); the conduct of simulation exercises; and the deployment of the Panel of ASEAN Experts on Fire and Haze Assessment and Coordination.

What are the key features of the ASEAN Haze Agreement?

The ASEAN Haze Agreement recognises that transboundary haze pollution which result from land and/or forest fires should be mitigated through concerted national efforts and international cooperation.

The Agreement contains measures on:

  • Monitoring and assessment
  • Prevention
  • Preparedness
  • National and joint emergency response
  • Procedures for deployment of people, materials, and equipment across boders
  • Technical cooperation and scientific research