The Heat Is Online

Indonesian fire damage -- 1998

"Indonesian fires caused over billion dollars damage in 1997" (AFP) Feb, 25, 1998

JAKARTA, Feb 25 (AFP) - The regional bill for damage caused by Indonesian fires and the haze they caused in 1997 exceeded 1.38 billion dollars, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said Wednesday.

Damage estimated at one billion dollars was sustained by Indonesia itself, 90 percent of that figure in short-term health costs, the group said in a statement issued by its Jakarta office. Another 90 million dollars was lost in tourism and airport shutdowns.

Malaysia was saddled with the next highest bill, losing about 300 million dollars, mainly in lost industrial production and a slump in tourism as the haze spread from its bigger neighbour.

Singapore lost 60 million dollars, mainly in tourism receipts, while the city state and Malaysia paid out a combined 12 million dollars for additional health care directly attributed to the choking smog, which affected some 70 million people in the region, the statement said.

The figures were compiled in a survey conducted by WWF and the Singapore-based Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA).

The fires, largely blamed on land clearing by Indonesian plantation and timber firms sent thick haze over Singapore, parts of Malaysia and even distant Thailand for several months last year.

Several hundred fires are burning again in the provinces of East Kalimantan and Riau, Sumatra island.

Malaysia's losses could have funded its government's social programs for the last three years, while Singapore's were sufficient to have financed its Community Chest, comprising 50 charities and benefitting 180,000 people for two years, the statement said.

"Indonesia could have used its lost resources to provide basic sanitation, water and sewage services for about 40 million people," or one third of the poor," EEPSEA director David Glover said in the statement.

Foreign tourism losses for the three countries amounted to 256 million dollars, or 18 percent of the total, and keenly felt because of lost foreign exchange receipts during the region's current economic crisis.

The study's conclusions were conservative, WWF added, and did not take into account other costs such as long-term health effects, "which may persist for decades and eventually exceed the short-term health effects."

It also excluded damage directly caused by fire, as opposed to the haze, the statement said, adding this cost could exceed the damge from the haze.

"The loss by fire of Indonesia's forest resources such as timber and rattan, and the damage to biodiversity and the health of forest ecosystems, has been simply tremendous," WWF forest conservation advisor Togu Manurung said.

The group added the total area of land burned last year was unknown but that it believed a European Union estimate of two million hectares to be conservative.