1997 Indonesian forest fires

The 1997 group of forest fires in Indonesia that lasted well into 1998 were probably among the two or three, if not the largest, forest fires group in the last two centuries of recorded history.

Air pollution over Southeast Asia in October 1997.

In the middle of 1997 forest fires burning in Indonesia began to affect neighbouring countries, spreading thick clouds of smoke and haze to Malaysia and Singapore. Then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad searched desperately for a solution,[1] and based on a plan by the head of the Malaysian fire and rescue department sent a team of Malaysian firefighters across to Indonesia under code name Operation Haze. This is to mitigate the effect of the Haze to Malaysia economy. The value of the Haze damage to Malaysian GDP is estimated to be 0.30 per cent.[2]

Seasonal rains in early December brought a brief respite but soon after the dry conditions and fires returned. By late 1997 and early 1998 Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Sri Lanka[3] had also felt the haze from the smoke of the forest fires. By the time the 1997–98 forest fires were finally over some 8 million hectares of land had burned while countless millions of people suffered from air pollution.

Causes and effect

The 1997 Indonesian forest fires were caused by changing land use which made the tropical forest vulnerable to fire during a drought associated with that year's El Niño. Indonesian forests have historically been resistant to burning even during long dry seasons and despite the use of fire to clear land for swidden agriculture. The land use changes that led to the fires were a combination of industrial-scale logging, draining peatlands for conversion to oil palm and fast-growing tree plantations, and a massive government program to drain swamps and convert them to rice paddies.[4] A total of 240 people perished in the wildfires.[5]

Due to the heavy smoke caused by the fires, an Airbus A300 operating as Garuda Indonesia Flight 152 crashed on approach to Medan's Polonia Airport. All 234 people on board died, making it the worst crash in Indonesian history.

Estimated cost

The total economic value of the damages is conservatively estimated to be US$4.47 billion, of which by far the largest share was borne by Indonesia.[6] This figure excludes a number of damages that are especially difficult to measure or to value in monetary terms, such as loss of human life, long-term health impacts, and some biodiversity losses.

Forest fires in Indonesia in 1997 were estimated to have released between 0.81 and 2.57 gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, which is between 13 and 40% of the annual carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.[7][8]

As part of steps taken to avoid the recurring of the Haze, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) approved the need for an early warning system in the Regional Haze Action Plan (RHAP) in 1998 to prevent forest fires and the resulting haze through improved management policies and enforcements, example via Fire Danger Rating System (FDRS).[9]

Countries affected

See also


  • List of disasters in Indonesia


  1. New Straits Times - Nov 8, 1997
  2. Indonesia's Fires and Haze: The Cost of Catastrophe By David Glover, Timothy Jessup, page 46
  3. Jim, C.Y. (1999). Geography Vol. 84, No. 3 (The Forest Fires in Indonesia 1997-98: Possible Causes and Pervasive Consequences). Geographical Association. p. 255.
  4. Seymour, Frances; Busch, Jonah (2016). Why Forests? Why Now?: The Science, Economics, and Politics of Tropical Forests and Climate Change. Center for Global Development. ISBN 9781933286853.
  5. "Capter 3 It Only Takes A Spark: The Hazard of Wildfires" (PDF). Brookings.edu. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  6. Glover, David (2006). Indonesia's Fires and Haze: The Cost of Catastrophe. IDRC. ISBN 9781552503324.
  7. The global impact of Indonesian forest fires Archived 18 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Mark E Harrison, Susan E Page, and Suwido H Limin, Biologist, Volume 56 Number 3, August 2009
  8. Indonesia Rainforest Fires Doubled CO2 Levels Globally, Cat Lazaroff, Albion Monitor, 5 November 2002
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.