Monday, October 26, 2015

Indonesia's Smog Blankets Neighboring Countries

On October 21, 2015, Malaysian newspaper The Sun showed this on its front page:
If you notice at the top page, there’s a sub-heading ”KL to be among top 100 liveable cities by 2020” and directly below it is a picture of a view of Kuala Lumpur city center with a caption in red “Unhealthy…”. There seems to be a serious mismatch between “future intent” and “present predicament”! 
After all, the haze that has been blanketing the country for years! Would the country be haze-free in five years’ time? I doubt it. In fact, this year, it has taken a turn for the worse! This year, it stayed much longer than the “normal” one month. This year, it has become even more intolerable.
Jakarta had admitted that the annual ‘haze’ – we should call it “smog” because that is what it actually is! – has already killed at least 10 in Indonesia and caused respiratory illnesses to at least half a million.
The yearly land burning in Indonesia is so pervasive that it caused unhealthy smoke to spread to neighboring countries and especially, smothering Malaysia and Singapore. Increasingly, this has forced the closure of schools, disrupted air traffic and restricted people indoors. 
A general view of Kuala Lumpur Tower as seen on a hazy day in Kuala Lumpur. Reuters picture released October 23, 2015
Just last week, schools in Selangor, Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur were closed on Monday and only re-opened four days later. And mind you, this was not the first time.

Notice on school gate: "Jerebu Sekolah diTutup 15-09-15" (Haze School is Closed 15-09-15). Image credit:

And in case we are accepting the smog as “normal” – please do take note that prolonged poor air quality can cause serious health problems to the young and old.
A Bernama news report had quoted Friday Malaysian Meteorological Department director-general Che Gayah Ismail as claiming that the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) had undertaken 29 cloud-seeding operations to reduce the effects of the smog since March 2015. Okay, but what are we going to do about Indonesia?
Unhappy Singapore wants to pursue legal action against “errant companies responsible for the haze” and has called on Indonesia to respond to “our repeated requests to share information” on the firms. Paper and palm oil firms have been blamed for deliberately setting off fires to clear land – including flammable peat-rich terrain – for cultivation, a traditional practice aggravated this year by drier-than-usual conditions due to the El Nino weather phenomenon.
Already, Singapore last month launched legal action that could lead to massive fines against Indonesian companies. So far, five Indonesian companies including multinational Asia Pulp and Paper (part of the Sinar Mas conglomerate), have been served with legal notices.
Even for Thailand, where the country’s south is affected, their officials had described the smog as the worst they had seen in a decade and called its continuing spread a “crisis”.
Malaysia adopts a more “tidak apa” (lackadaisical) attitude. We are tolerant. Or worse, we are indifferent. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi – a fool among fools – had already said that it is unfair to put any pressure on Indonesia. Is he suggesting that we must learn to live with the smog? What an idiotic man! What an imbecilic remark!
Please don’t tell me you didn’t know that Indonesia has an enormous repository of tropical peatlands – and, for a generation, areas of these have been burned to prepare the land for the cultivation of oil palms. Peat smoke now contributes about 40% of Indonesia's overall greenhouse gas emissions. Palm oil is an ingredient in a range of consumer products, from lipstick to ice cream. Yet it has also helped to give its source country the dubious distinction of being the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the US of A – as well as a leading source of hazardous smoke haze.
Indonesia is not doing enough! 

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