Haze Pollution: Seeking Solutions from Sustainability Science and Bioethical Perspectives

2015 fire in South Sumatra, Indonesia

Every year people suffer from the effects of haze pollution resulting from land, forest, and plantation  located in various parts of Indonesia, mostly on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo. At its worst – when such environmental conditions as El Niño delay the onset of the rainy season – the intensified burning and smoke affects the neighboring countries of Singapore and Malaysia, and even Thailand and the Philippines.

Besides the grave threats to human health, the exposure to haze pollution harms living resources, fragile ecosystems, as well as material property, leading to the violation of fundamental human rights to life and health, and a considerable financial loss for the governments.

2015 Haze in numbers: Economic, Social, and Environmental Costs

  • US$16 billion – economic loss to Indonesia due to forest and plantation fires in 2015 – more than double the damage and losses from the 2004 tsunami.
  • US$295 million – costs related to biodiversity, including thousands of hectares of habitat for orangutans and other endangered species.
  • 43 million – number of persons in Indonesia exposed to the air quality that exceeded more than three times the amount considered “hazardous” on International Pollutant Standard Index.
  • 5 million – number of students affected by school closures in Indonesia.
  • 2.6 million – hectares of burned forest, peat, and other land – an area 4.5 times the size of Bali.
  • 500,000 – number of persons suffering acute respiratory infections related to haze.
  • 100,000 – estimated number of premature deaths in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore due to haze pollution (estimates from a study conducted by researchers from Harvard and Columbia universities).

To better understand the cultural, social and environmental aspects of transboundary haze, UNESCO has launched a project on Seeking Solutions to Haze Pollution from Sustainability Science and Bioethical Perspectives. Funded by the Malaysian Funds-in-Trust, the project brings together key stakeholders – policymakers, researchers, experts and activists in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and other ASEAN Member States to generate recommendations anchored in human rights and ethical frameworks.

For the video “Addressing Transboundary Haze from Bioethical Perspective,” capturing the main concepts and actions of this project (5 min) click here.

The Project comprises of three phases:

Phase I: Five institutions conducted research on various ethical, societal and cultural aspects of haze to generate recommendations for all parts of society that have a stake in this issue – the governments, the private sector, and the civil society:

  • Bogor Agricultural University (Indonesia)
  • Gadjah Mada University (Indonesia)
  • Andalas University (Indonesia)
  • Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia – IKIM (Malaysia)
  • People’s Movement to Stop Haze - PM.Haze (Singapore)

Phase II: Forum of National Bioethics Committees on Transboundary Haze Pollution (Jakarta, Indonesia, 6-7 December 2017) highlighted the outcomes of the multifaceted research, using the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights and the Declaration on Ethical Principles in relation to Climate Change to frame the debate on haze pollution as an ethical and human rights issue.

Phase III: In 2018, UNESCO and its partner institutions designed and implemented pilot models based on the knowledge generated in the earlier phases, to address the socio-environmental aspects of haze within the affected communities in six different villages of Indonesia. In partnership with Universitas Gadjah Mada, Universitas Palangka Raya and Bogor Agricultural University, the activities directly engaged the local stakeholders, including community representatives, businesses, and governments, to promote sustainable practices based on ethical principles and local knowledge.

The MOST Academy: Bioethics and Sustainability Science in Action to Stop Haze Pollution brings together the knowledge and experiences gained through these pilot projects. For the Programme of MOST Academy, please click here.

The guidebooks and other materials:

Comic Books:






For more information of the project, please contact the SHS unit at UNESCO Jakarta Office (Mr. Irakli Khodeli: i.khodeli(at)unesco.org).

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