Michael Yamashita ’71 discusses the pollution crisis caused by the Indonesian agricultural fires in this compelling photo spread, where “the swirling fog and ash made for moody, almost ghostly images that were a record of the massive cost of the fires and the tragedy of lost land and lives.”
As Colorado fights some of the worst wildfires in that state’s history, fires are also raging in Indonesia again and the polluted haze caused by them is the worst since I photographed the story, Indonesia’s Plague of Fire for National Geographic in 1997. The fires we covered then, caused by the annual (illegal) burn-off of fields, forest and plantations designed to clear large tracts of land for new planting, are counted among the world’s greatest environmental disasters. They spread as far as Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Singapore.
Unfortunately, despite laws enacted since then to prevent agricultural burn-off, this year’s fires are even worse, bringing down a shroud of poisonous smoke that again threatens Indonesia’s neighbors. And because most of the fires rage underneath the land surface, igniting the rainforest’s under-layer of highly flammable peat, fighting them is exponentially harder.
Image: from Michael Yamashita
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