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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dry Season

Here in West Kalimantan we are well into the dry season. While there are some nice things about this time of year - it is easier to get around as the roads are more dirt than mud, and we've has some great fruit harvests over the last month with durian, mangosteen and rambutans all over the place.

But one of the biggest downsides to the dry season is that it also becomes the burning season here. Everyday you can see little towers of smoke dotting the hills from slash-and-burn agriculture. It's bad enough when you think about all that smoke entering the atmosphere, but even worse when you realize that many of the areas being cleared were forests only days before.

In Ketapang, an alarmingly high number of people have respiratory issues. I haven't seen any official statistics, but there are plenty of children and adults that complain of asthma-type conditions. Fortunately this year the fires do not seem to be too great, relatively - perhaps the massive deforestation means less to burn, but the fires are still small enough, that the effects have been relatively mild compared to a few years ago, or our neighbors. About 250 kilometers north of us, forests fires continue to have severe effects on the district capital of Pontianak. The smoke gets so thick that airplanes are often delayed or canceled due to poor visibility, and the pollution causes health problems such as stomach ulcers. Visitors from Pontianak often talk about how nice it is to be able to breathe fresh air here, but every morning, with each new plume coming from the hills, one has to wonder for how much longer that image will last.

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