Since the late 1990s, forest fires have been an annual occurrence in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest palm oil industry. It is a lucrative business which accounts for about 11% of the country’s export earnings. Indonesia’s national disaster agency has owned the fact that 99% of the fires are caused by humans: plantation companies and small-scale farmers typically employ the slash-and-burn method for land clearing prior to palm oil plantations.
How severe is the problem this year?
The forest fire which has started since July has been identified as the second worst on Indonesian record since 1997. Till date, 19 people have died from haze-related illnesses. More than 500,000 have reported acute respiratory illnesses. Over 43 million people have been inhaling toxic fume and particulate matters from the burning.
The problem is not confined to Indonesia alone. The haze has also shrouded neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, prompting school closures, flight cancellations and businesses disruptions. By some estimation, the fires could cost the South East Asian countries over US$14 billion in environmental, health and other damages.*
Indonesia’s fires are now considered the worst climate crisis in the world. It has contributed significantly to global carbon emissions, exacerbating climate change. In the past two months, Indonesia’s daily emissions have exceeded those of China on at least 14 days, while its m...
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...ortunately, desperate civilians, neighboring countries and the global community do not have that luxury of time and are fed up of waiting. Nor can the words be trusted, since other presidents prior to this have made somewhat similar commitments.
Call to action
Diplomacy and cooperation are no longer the effective mode of engagement with the Indonesian government. The only option left is to penalize them. ASEAN members must send an unequivocally strong message to Jakarta to cooperate with its neighbors to tackle the haze. They must also create mechanisms to impose sanctions and punitive measures on the repeat offender. Importantly, the Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution must be amended to confer member countries with enforcement powers.
Importer countries of palm oil must hit the Indonesian government where it hurts the most through economic sanctions.
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