Forest fires linked to tens of thousands of avoidable deaths

Setting fire to forest and agricultural land in Southeast Asia to prepare it for cultivation or grazing contributes to an estimated 59,000 premature deaths a year, say scientists.

Their analysis reveals that the greatest health impact from the burning, which releases tiny particles into the air which can get into people’s lungs, is felt by some of the poorest communities in the region, in northern Laos and western Myanmar. 

In a paper published today in the journal GeoHealth, researchers from Leeds and University of Augsburg in Germany call for measures to curb agricultural and forest burning. They say preventing agricultural and forest fires should be regarded as a “public health priority”. 

Dr Carly Reddington, AIA Research Fellow in the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, and the study’s lead author, said: “Our investigation quantifies the contribution of an often overlooked source of poor air quality and demonstrates that actions to reduce fire may offer considerable, yet largely unrecognised, options for rapid improvements in air quality.  

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University of Leeds