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  Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts

Photo credit: Julia Lo/GEC

All of these various problems have combined to make the degradation of the peat swamp forests of Southeast Asia into one of the most extensive and important land degradation problems in the world. Unless urgent action is taken to address this problem, it will have major global environmental and social implications. If the stored carbon within the peatlands in the region is released, it will have a significant impact on global climate as it is equivalent to 20 years of current global fossil fuel emissions. The loss of biodiversity will also be significant at the global level. Peatlands are the last refuge of such flagship species as the orang utan as well as being repositories of over 2500 plant species (including over 500 medicinal plants) and over 300 fish species - many of which are restricted to this habitat.

Loss of peatlands will also have a significant social, health and economic impact for the people in the region. Fires in less than 6% of the region's peatlands have caused US$9 billion worth of damage in one year and led to over 500,000 people seeking medical treatment for respiratory ailments. The key functions that peatlands play in water storage and supply as well as flood control and the prevention of saline intrusion will also be compromised by further degradation of the system.


Status and Values of Peat Swamp Forests
One of the major land types in Southeast Asia is peatlands. In a natural state these occur as peat swamp forests. These wetland forests have developed primarily in the coastal lowland plains in-between major rivers. Read more >>


Degradation of Peatlands
Over the past 30 years, peat swamp forests have been increasingly cleared, drained and degraded as a result of unsustainable forestry and agricultural practices. Read more >>

Degradation Due to Drainage and Subsidence
Even without fire, the peatlands of the region degrade rapidly once they are drained with land subsidence of up to 3m as recorded in some parts of the region following unregulated drainage. Read more >>
Responses to the Problems
With increasing recognition of the significance of peatland degradation in the ASEAN region, there has been a growing level of activities at national and regional level. Read more >>
Need for new intervention
To date, efforts in the region to address the increasing problems of peatland fires and associated transboundary haze and greenhouse gas emission have focussed mainly on early warning and firefighting approaches. Read more >>