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Extreme levels of haze from peat-fires expected in Asia

Wetlands International is concerned with the recent warning issued by the South-east Asian Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution that the haze this year will be worse than 2006. The governments of the region should prevent the human induced peatland fires that cause the haze. 

The year 2007 experienced a period with lots of rainfall due to the La Nina weather phenomenon. This year, after this weather phenomenon, a period with little rainfall and therefore more fores t and peat fires is expected. 

It is though human activity that is to be blamed for the haze. Wetlands International urges the sub-regional Ministerial Steering Committee to address the underlying source of this annual disaster. The core issue is the extensive logging and drainage of peatswamp forests in the region, especially in Indonesia. Land use change activities such as deforestation, drainage for palm oil and pulp plantations, illegal land use, and other agricultural purposes have dried up an ecosystem that in a natural state is waterlogged. Only restoring and rewetting this ecosystem will prevent these annual fires from occurring.

Peatland fires also contribute to climate change. Forested tropical peatlands in the region store at least 42,000 Megatonnes of soil carbon. When peatlands are drained, it begins an oxidization process which releases CO2. We estimated in our report that degraded peatlands in this region emits 600Mt of CO2 per year. Peatland fires in the region add on average another 1400 Mt CO2 per year. To put into perspective, CO2 emission from South-east Asian peatlands alone is more than India or Russia, and three times that of Germany!

Wetlands International is restoring degraded peatlands in South East Asia and is actively promoting investment in conservation and restoration of peat swamps and advocating wise use of peatlands. This is a cost effective and essential strategy to prevent peatland fires and mitigates climate change. Wetlands International is working with partners to include peatlands in post Kyoto Protocol agreement. This will provide financial incentives for countries to protect, conserve and restore these important carbon stores.

Wetlands International strongly urges the governments of the region to address and act on peatland degradation and promote wise use of what remains of this dwindling ecosystem. Only by addressing the root issue can this annual disaster be stopped. 

Link to the warning of the Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

For more information, please contact:

Gabriel Chong, Wetlands International – Malaysia.

Alex Kaat
Communications Manager Wetlands International
+31 (0)6 50 60 1917

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Press can contact the communication Manager of Wetlands International:

Alex Kaat
Phone: +31 (0)6 5060 1917

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