Toxic Haze In Asia Causes More Than 100,000 Deaths, Study Estimates

By Angela Laguipo , Sep 19, 2016 12:54 PM EDT

The Indonesian haze that covered many countries in Southeast Asia for weeks last year may have caused more than 100,000 deaths, a new study found.

More than 90 percent of the deaths occurred in Indonesia and the rest were in Malaysia and Singapore, a team of researchers from Harvard University and Columbia University concluded. This study sheds light on the emergent need for the Indonesian government to tackle this annual problem in the country.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, linked the worsening haze problem in the country to the burning of forests and peat lands to clear them off crops in time for another planting season which happens every year. Peat lands are swampy soil that stores carbon.

To land to their findings, the researchers used computer modeling and satellite data of health effects. They estimated the statistical probability of early deaths linked to the worsening haze problem in the region, according to the New York Times.

They found that the risk ranged from 26,300 to 174,300 deaths, with 100,300 as the average. Also, the study predicts about 91,600 deaths in Indonesia, 6,500 in Malaysia and 2,200 in Singapore.

However, the study just covered the health effects of the haze on adults despite reports of infant deaths. The data also includes only the effects of P2.5, the health-threatening particulate matter present in smog, and not all the toxins present in polluted air.

The researchers have estimated that the early deaths were associated with respiratory disease and other causes. According to the Indonesian government, the official death toll from last year's fire and haze incident is only 19, including fire fighters. It's the worst one in eight years.

On the other hand, the country's disaster management agency said that an estimated 43 million people were exposed to the smoke and about half a million sought medical care for acute respiratory illness in Kalimantan Island and Sumatra alone.

"Air pollution, especially that caused by atmospheric fine particles, has grave implications for human health," said Rajasekhar Bala, an environmental engineering expert at the National University of Singapore. 

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