World

Study claims last year's haze killed 100,000 in the region

Officials slam haze death toll in new study by Harvard and Columbia University

Malaysia and Singapore have refuted a Harvard and Columbia University study which claims that the 2015 South-east Asian haze had caused thousands of deaths.

The study, which is expected to be published in the Environmental Research Letters journal, claims that there have been 100,300 premature deaths in the region from the haze: 91,600 in Indonesia, 6,500 in Malaysia and 2,200 in Singapore.

The numbers vastly contradict the official count, which only reported 19 deaths in Indonesia and none in Malaysia and Singapore.

The Singapore Ministry of Health yesterday said the study's findings that estimate there were 2,200 premature deaths in Singapore due to the 2015 haze crisis is "not reflective of the actual situation", reported Channels NewsAsia.

Malaysia's Deputy Health director-general Dr S. Jeyaindran was sceptical of the findings of the study, reported The Star.

"No such thing!" he said when contacted yesterday about the paper.

"We had no deaths last year directly related to the haze," he said.

He said the ministry had done a study on suspended particulate matter in the air from open burning and its effects on the human body, and found that apart from irritable symptoms, no grave health risks were likely.

"Of course we had increased number of conjunctivitis and respiratory track infection but it is mostly due to the fact that some haze contained sulphur dioxide and nitric oxide which comes from the burning of fossil fuel," he said.

"We didn't find any increase in the number of acute respiratory ailments from the haze. This has been going on year on year and our data shows there is no increase."

Little is known about the methodology of the study, though Bloomberg reported that the number of deaths was "derived from a complex analysis that has not yet been validated by analysis of official data on mortality".

REVIEW

An expert team who reviewed the paper for Bloomberg were also reserved in their comments, calling it "preliminary" and "not precise". But they said it should serve as a wake up call for the region.

The fires generated around 600 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses - roughly equivalent to Germany's entire annual output.

"If nothing changes, this killer haze will carry on taking a terrible toll, year after year. Industry and government must take real action to stop forest clearing and peatland drainage for plantations," said Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Yuyun Indradi.

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