１) Research Background
In Southeast Asia, tropical peatlands extend to about 250,000 square kilometers, which store massive amount of carbon and water. In the past, most of the peatlands existed in the form of the peat swamp forests. Due to their physical characteristics, people lived at the margins of peatland areas and used the resources only in limited ways. As a result, the forests have been spared from development for a long time. However, over the last two decades, these swamps have been intensively exploited in order to create commercial acacia and oil palm plantations. As these tree species cannot grow in swamps, peatlands have been drained, creating extensive areas of dried and degraded peatlands.
The dried and degraded tropical peatlands create enormous impact upon the global greenhouse gases emission, local ecosystems, and people’s livelihoods and health. The dried tropical peat, which is composed of partially decayed vegetation or organic matters, emits massive amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) by being exposed to the atmospheric oxygen. The CO2 emission is dramatically accelerated when the dried peatland turns into a fire. The fire threatens the natural forests as well as the lands and properties possessed by local communities. Smoke haze from the fire, which contains PM2.5 (airborne particles with aerodynamic diameters less than 2.5 micrometers), nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and other chemical substances, causes serious health hazards beyond the boundaries of the countries.
In Indonesia, great peatland fires burned 21,000 square kilometers of forest from July to November in 2015. During this period, CO2 emissions from the fires exceeded ones from fossil fuel use in Japan during the whole of 2013. A half million people suffered from upper respiratory tract infections, and thousands of people, especially children, were afflicted with asthma. The haze also affected the people living in Singapore and Malaysia. In this situation, Indonesian government implemented a series of policies to prevent brutal exploitations and fires. Still, it is necessary to accumulate the scientific baseline data of peatland societies and ecosystems and assess the impacts of fire and haze, in order to clarify causal links between various factors and introduce the effective ways of the mitigation of peatland degradation.