Indonesian wildfires putting 10 million children at risk of air pollution

Wild forest and peatland fires across Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia are putting millions of children at serious risk from the effects of toxic air pollution, according to UNICEF.

While forest fires are common in Indonesia during the dry season, this year the situation has been made worse because of an extended drought season and the impacts of climate change.

This week alone over 11,000 separate fires in Indonesia have been reported – an unusually high figure when compared to the same week in previous years.

Parts of Indonesia have recorded levels of 155 on the air quality index. According to this index, anything between 151 and 200 is unhealthy. This means that everyone in the area is likely to begin to experience health effects and members of sensitive groups and young children are made particularly vulnerable.

According to UNICEF, it is estimated that 2.4 million children under five live in areas that are affected by the wildfires.

Young children are particularly exposed to the effects of air pollution because they breathe more rapidly and their physical defences and immune systems are not fully developed to fight against pollution.

Haze from the fires has been reported in nearby countries Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.

Wildfire smoke is primarily made of carbon dioxide, water vapour, and carbon monoxide. Exposure to this smoke has been associated with a wide range of health implications.

According to Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture, over 46,000 schools are currently affected by poor air quality, impacting over 7.8 million students, with many forced to close.

Deborah Comini from UNICEF said that families and children in South East Asia must now receive accurate information regarding their exposure to toxic air pollution to protect themselves.

‘Poor air quality is a severe and growing challenge for Indonesia,’ she said.

‘Every year millions of children are breathing in toxic air that threatens their health and causes them to miss school – resulting in lifelong physical and cognitive damage,’ she added.

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