Saving Indonesia’s Forests, Stopping The Haze – Monique Santoso, Indonesia

Sumatra and West Kalimantan, two of Indonesia’s largest island provinces, have been drowned in a deep haze since the 1st of September 2015. It has also been reported that the amount of carbon dioxide produced over the past month has exceeded the amount of greenhouse gases produced in the US everyday.

 The smoke in Palembang, South Sumatera earlier this month.

The smoke in Palembang, South Sumatera earlier this month.

SLASH-BURNING AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES

The obsolete practises of Indonesian agriculture, namely slash burning agriculture, have resulted in tens of thousands of trees being burnt in order to clear land for large palm oil and pulp companies in the country.

Unknown to the general public, slash-burning and the extreme weather conditions in Indonesia form a deadly combination. With temperatures of over 36 degrees Celsius every day, even just the slightest rustle of dry grass can set fire to the most rural of forests. These fires release huge quantities of smoke that even neighbouring countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia, are being affected by.

The Petronas Towers in Malaysia witnessing the effect of the haze originating from Indonesia

The Petronas Towers in Malaysia witnessing the effect of the haze originating from Indonesia

So far this year, Indonesia’s forest fires have emitted more carbon dioxide than Germany or Japan. On 26 days from the period of September 1st to October 14th, daily emissions surpassed those of the entire US (being the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China), according to researchers from the VU University in Amsterdam. They estimated that the approximately 100,000 fires in Indonesia detected so far, this year alone, have emitted up to 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. This puts Indonesia on track for its worst year for fires since 1997.

“Not only are there people suffering, with hundreds of thousands being ill and many recorded deaths, these fires have a massive economic toll on the Indonesian economy.” said Professor Meijaard, an expert on Indonesian forests, who coordinates the environmental conservation program, Borneo Futures.

GOVERNMENTAL ACTION

Although the results have yet to be seen, the government has taken action to alleviate the problem. Hoping to evacuate pregnant women and children, the Indonesian army has sent warships to haze zones, relocating them to safer grounds.

Freddy M.Panggabean, the Indonesian Embassy Minister Counsellor in Malaysia cited that water bombing aircrafts will fly over hundreds of fire hotspots that have been emitting smoke over both Indonesia and Malaysia.

FUTURE POSSIBILITIES

To say that palm-oil and pulp factories will stop cutting down trees for business expansion is not possible. Although heavy taxes are imposed on them, they are still Indonesia’s largest exporting companies in the country’s foreign trade domain.

However, both Indonesia and Malaysia have decided to establish a palm oil commission, which would help set  their environmental standards and respond to the cries that want palm oil to be produced in a way that will preserve wildlife, protect the environment and make breathing less difficult for millions living in South East Asia.

Weather forecasts also predict skies to clear by the end of November.

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