One year on: Memories of Indonesia’s 2015 peatland fire crisis


One year on: Memories of Indonesia’s 2015 peatland fire crisis

1 November 2016 – As world leaders gather in the coming days for COP22 Marrakesh to discuss priorities for action on the Paris Agreement, Southeast Asia marks a year since an environmental crisis that had severe implications for global climate change.

One year ago, land conversion fires raged across carbon-dense peatlands in several provinces in Indonesia, sparking a region-wide air pollution crisis. As recovery efforts continue, research is ongoing into the drivers of the fires, using remote sensing imagery to identify exactly where they took place. Further research into the social, political and economic dimensions of the fires are also contributing to knowledge needed to mitigate fires on this scale in future years.

In a photo essay released today, Rachel Carmenta, a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), and photographer Björn Vaughn of PT Borneo Productions International (BPI), reflect on the height of the burning months in September and October 2015, in Central Kalimantan and Eastern Riau, Indonesia.

View the photo essay on CIFOR’s Forests News here.

Read more about research into the fire and haze crisis here.

Taking a step back from the research, Carmenta and Vaughn share their personal perspectives on daily life in the midst of severe air pollution.

“One night in my hotel I woke up feeling poisoned and gasping for oxygen. I realized there was no clean breathing air for hundreds of kilometers. What followed was a panic attack, which I got under control by pressing my son’s baby shoes against my chest, lowering my heartbeat,” Carmenta writes.

Vaughn showcases award-winning images from the height of the crisis, and shares iconic images that capture the daily reality of the peatland fires, as well as his involvement in efforts for recovery. Vaughn’s work is now part of an exhibition titled ‘I am the Forest’, on display in a rainforest area outside Palangka Raya, the Central Kalimantan capital.

Carmenta is now conducting research on the performance of various fire management interventions to inform best practices for fire-free futures. CIFOR’s ongoing research into the fire and haze is supported by the UK Government Department for International Development (UKaid/DFID), the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).


Shelley Thakral

Team Leader, Communications and Engagement, CIFOR