ALMOST every year, a smoky hazeblankets the South East Asian region – signaling the return of forest fires inIndonesia. What makes it so dangerous? For many in this region, grey skies and a lingering acrid smellare not unfamiliar, but 2019 has already brought with it some of the worst hazelevels in years. On Sept. 14, Pollutants Standards Index levels in Singapore wentbeyond the 100 mark for the first time in three years, though it’s yet to reachthe hazardous levels of 2015. What’s causing the haze? What is being done to stop it? The forest fireshave destroyed much of the natural habitat of Indonesia’s orangutans andreleased large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Anything between301 to 500 is considered hazardous. Besides irritating the respiratory tract and the eyes, pollutantsin the haze can cause serious long-term damage to health. The haze usually measures hundreds of kilometers across. It hasspread to Malaysia, Singapore, the south of Thailand and the Philippines,causing a significant deterioration in air quality. The problem has accelerated in recent years as more land has beencleared for expanding plantations for the lucrative palm oil trade. PM2.5 is considered the most dangerous as it can enter deeper intothe lungs. It has been associated with causing respiratory illnesses and lungdamage. In September 2015, Mr. Widodo said his country needed at least three years to tackle the haze as itwas “not a problem you can solve quickly.” But what causes these fires – and why do Indonesia’s forests burneach year? Why is it an issue? Almost four years later, the forests in Indonesia continue toburn. (BBC) Kalimantan ishome to many of the region’s orangutans. The Bornean orangutan, which is nativeto the island of Borneo, is critically endangered, according to theInternational Union for Conservation of Nature. On both indices, a reading above 100 is classified as unhealthyand anything above 300 is hazardous. But it’s inIndonesia where the impact is most felt. The country has for years promised to step up enforcement. UnderPresident Joko Widodo, it has named 10 corporations as suspects this year, andsaid it is investigating more than 100 individuals. According to Indonesia’s national disaster agency, there were328,724 hectares of land burnt this year from January to August alone. For many, it’s areminder of 2015, the country’s last major haze crisis. In 2015, the PSI level in Singapore was at 341 – schools wereforced to close and several fast-food chains suspended their delivery services. The indices used to measure air quality in the region usuallymeasure particulate matter (PM10), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphurdioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. What impact has it had on nature? Indonesia has been dumping millions of liters of water in affectedareas and has sent in the army to help fire fighters. They often spin out of control and spread into protected forestedareas. Many parts of Indonesia are burning. Many farmers take advantage of the conditions to clear vegetationfor palm oil, pulp and paper plantations using the slash-and-burn method. In Palangkaraya,the capital of central Kalimantan, the Air Quality Index reached 2000 on Sundaylast week, according to Greenpeace Indonesia. The burning usually peaks from July to October during Indonesia’sdry season. In Malaysia, hundreds of schools have been forced to close afterthe haze reached “very unhealthy levels” of 208 on the Air Pollutants Index inseveral districts. The 2015 crisiscost the country 16 billion dollars and caused more than 500,000 people tosuffer from respiratory ailments – a state of emergency was declared. The burnt land also becomes drier, which makes it more likely tocatch fire the next time there are slash-and-burn clearings. Among the most affected regions were Central, West and SouthKalimantan, Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra.