South-East Asia urgently needs to stop using fire to clear land, say David J. Lohman, David Bickford and Navjot S. Sodhi in this article in Science.
Despite a zero-burning policy — ratified by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1999 — farmers throughout the region continue to burn land.
Burning releases a large amount of carbon dioxide and soot into the atmosphere, causing lingering haze pollution and increasing mortality rates across the region.
During El Niño years, the fires often burn out of control, destroying large areas of forest and endangering the region's biodiversity.
The authors suggest that a number of activities are needed to solve the problem, including preventing and extinguishing carbon-intense 'dirty fires' and coordinating regional fire-fighting efforts.
They also call for farmers to be given financial incentives to stop burning, as well as alternative methods of clearing land and education about environmental management.
2007 may be another El Niño year, say the authors, so solutions must be in place before the dry season starts in June.