For the third year in a row, fires are blazing across parts of Indonesia. Smog has affected Kalimantan and Sumatra and when the winds blow from the south, the haze blankets Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and reaches other parts of Southeast Asia. Experts say that the fires are a constant threat to the environment and affect the health of millions of people. Some Indonesian officials maintain that fires are caused primarily by small farmers. In 1997 and 1998, they blamed the El Nio phenomenon for usually prolonged dry weather. However, satellite images show that these fires originate from large holdings of plantation and logging land, owned by agri-business and timber companies.
The fires are not accidental but the cheapest means for clearing terrain and increase profits, say environmentalists. This happens despite decrees against such activity. Studies by environmental groups estimate that the fires and haze in 1997-98 resulted in losses worth us $4.5 billion.