The last week has seen some of the first reports of haze resulting from peat fires for 2016. Drought conditions have persisted during the early part of this year in the more northerly areas of Southeast Asia, in particular countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. In some places this has caused large forest fires, aided not only by the dry conditions but by the wind. However, dry, hot weather has also affected other countries where peatlands are a larger proportion of the land area, particularly those north of the equator. The ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre reported:
“Large scale drier than usual weather conditions were observed across many parts of ASEAN region in March 2016. In particular, significantly below-normal rainfall, i.e. less than 50% of normal rainfall, was received over areas north of the equator including northern ASEAN, Malaysia, Singapore, northern Sumatra and eastern Kalimantan.”
The conditions are therefore set for fires again this year, with many hoping that the severity of last year’s fires will not be repeated. We are now already seeing some peatland fires, this time in Pahang (also see map above), a reminder that although last year much of the haze in Peninsular Malaysia was caused by transboundary pollution from other areas, there is also a domestic peatland fire problem. It is currently thought that, despite the drier than normal conditions, the haze will remain limited until the end of the monsoon in May.