Indonesia’s fires: an environmental catastrophe and a climate change nightmare.

Indonesia’s Fires Are an Environmental Catastrophe and a Climate Change Nightmare

Indonesia’s Fires Are an Environmental Catastrophe and a Climate Change Nightmare

From daguerreotypes to digital.
Dec. 1 2015 2:15 PM

“A Crime Against Humanity of Extraordinary Proportions”

Indonesia’s fires are an environmental catastrophe and a climate change nightmare.

 indonesia fire photos.
A man carries his son through the haze on the way to his house as a fire burns peatland on Oct. 2, 2015 in Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia.

Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Indonesia’s ongoing fires, the worst in its history, have been raging for the past six months, with no sign of relenting. They’ve pushed air quality to unprecedented unhealthy levels in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia, while smoke has forced some schools to close, airlines to delay and cancel flights, and has left more than half a million Indonesians suffering from respiratory ailments. Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency called them a “crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions.”

These fires are particularly harmful to the environment since they are peat fires, which emit up to 10 times more greenhouse gases in the form of methane gas than fires on other land. NASA satellites have detected more than 117,000 individual fires this year alone.

indonesia fire photos.
Indonesian fire fighters try to extinguish a forest fire in Riau Islands, Indonesia on Sept. 5, 2015.

Photo by Sutanta Aditya/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

indonesia fire photos.
A resident, Sumiati, 50, stands behind her plantation after it burned in a forest fire in Riau Islands, Indonesia, on Sept. 5, 2015

Photo by Sutanta Aditya/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

indonesia fire photos.
Villagers watch as Indonesian soldiers extinguish a fire near their home on burned peatland and fields at Sungai Rambutan village, on Oct. 2, 2015 in Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia.

Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

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Air pollution has been an annual problem for the past 18 years in Indonesia. It’s caused by the illegal burning of forest and peat fires on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo to clear new land for the production of pulp, paper, and palm oil. Singapore and Malaysia have offered to help the Indonesian government to fight against the fires, while authorities are conducting investigations of hundreds of Southeast Asian firms in connection with these.

Neighboring countries and the entire international community have been putting more pressure on Indonesia to control the fires ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this week.

indonesia fire photos.
A mother sits with her son who is recovering from a respiratory illness in a hospital in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, Oct. 28, 2015.

Photo by Darren Whiteside/Reuters

indonesia fire photos.
Fire victims salvaging their possessions from the debris of fire that burnt six homes in the village of Mon Geugong without casualties, on Aug. 8, 2015, Lhokseumawe, Aceh, Indonesia.

Photo by Azwar/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

indonesia fire photos.
Muslim students pray for rain to put out the fires that enveloped the region at Palembang 1 senior high school in Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia, Sept. 17, 2015.

Photo by Feny Selly/Antara Foto/Reuters

indonesia fire photos.
An officer points to fires or hot spots in Kalimantan, Indonesian part of Borneo, on a screen at the Fire Command Post at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in Jakarta on Sept. 22, 2015.

Photo by Akbar Nugroho Gumay/Antara Foto/Reuters

indonesia fire photos.
A resident rides a motorcycle on the haze-shrouded Betrix Bridge in Sarolangun, in Indonesia's Jambi province, Oct. 7, 2015.

Photo by Wahdi Septiawan/Antara Foto/Reuters

indonesia fire photos.
Residents and firefighters try to extinguish a fire burning temporary houses at a riverside slum in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 2, 2015.

Photo by Xinhua/Zulkarnain via Getty Images

indonesia fire photos.
An Mi-17 helicopter dumps water on a burning forest at Ogan Komering Ulu area in Indonesia's south Sumatra province, Sept. 10, 2015.

Photo by Beawiharta/Reuters

indonesia fire photos.
A crewmember of a Mi-17 helicopter lies on the floor of the chopper as water is dumped on a burning forest at Ogan Komering Ulu area in Indonesia's south Sumatra province, Sept. 10, 2015.

Photo by Beawiharta/Reuters

indonesia fire photos.
Cable cars moving towards the island resort of Sentosa are shrouded by haze in Singapore, Sept. 29, 2015.

Photo by Edgar Su/Reuters

indonesia fire photos.
A police officer drinks water as he takes a break from extinguishing fire at the police headquarters in Semarang, Indonesia's Central Java province, Sept. 30, 2015.

Photo by Aditya Pradana Putra/Antara Foto/Reuters

indonesia fire photos.
Workers bring water pipes to extinguish fire as they walk through a burnt palm oil plantation at the Pulo Geronggang village in Ogan Komering Ilir district in Indonesia's South Sumatra province, Sept. 11, 2015.

Photo by Beawiharta/Reuters

indonesia fire photos.
Orangutans walk as haze shrouds Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation camp in Nyaru Menteng, Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province, Oct. 5, 2015.

Photo by Rosa Panggabean/Antara Foto/Reuters

indonesia fire photos.
Indonesian military personnel spray water on a burned forest area at Rimbo Panjang Village, Kampar, Riau, Indonesia on Aug. 6. 2015.

Photo by Yenni Safana/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Juliana Jiménez is a former Slate photo editor and now a contributor writing on Latin American politics and culture for the Slatest. She translates for Democracy Now! and writes in English and Spanish for publications in Latin America.