Fires cost Indonesia $16 bn, twice the tsunami bill: World Bank

JAKARTA : Indonesia’s economy took a $16-billion hit this year from forest fires that cloaked Southeast Asia in haze, more than double the sum spent on rebuilding Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, the World Bank said on Tuesday.

The fires and resulting haze are an annual occurrence caused by slash-and-burn land clearance. But the blazes in 2015 were the worst for some years, causing air quality to worsen dramatically and many to fall ill across the region.

In a quarterly update on the Indonesian economy, the World Bank said the fires had devastated 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of forest and farmland across the archipelago from June to October.

The cost to Southeast Asia’s biggest economy is estimated at 221 trillion rupiah ($16.1 billion), equivalent to 1.9 percent of predicted GDP this year, it said.

In contrast, it cost $7 billion to rebuild Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh after it was engulfed 11 years ago by a quake-triggered tsunami, with the loss of tens of thousands of lives, the bank said.

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