Asian Fire Crisis Deepens

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Breathe the air for a day in Sarawak right now, and according to health experts, you will be inhaling the equivalent of 80 cigarettes. It is no surprise, then, that an estimated 32,000 people in Southeast Asia are suffering from smoke-related illnesses, as the whole region chokes under the weight of the smog caused by hundreds of Indonesian forest fires. The fires created a dense blanket of smoke over Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the southern Philippines and southern Thailand. There is a state of emergency in several major cities. Schools and hospitals have been closed. In places such as Sarawak, you can barely see 40 feet in front of you.

The real tragedy is that this crisis was avoidable. Far from being acts of God, the forest fires were set by Indonesian lumber and plantation companies who were trying to clear land. Indonesia's government could do little more than apologize to its neighbors. They might have to try a bit harder: the monsoon rains, which would douse the fires and cleanse the air, have been delayed by the El Nino climate system, and do not appear to be due for another month.