Haze: Yearly Tragedy

20150929_081037IT is that dreaded time of the year again. The time when our Indonesian neighbours would go down to their fields for slash and burn – clearing their vast lands the cheapest way.

Who cares if the smoke is going to blanket the air. Not only their very own Indonesian air, but also ours, the neighbouring countries.

I remember vividly, the first time I noticed this black smog was in 1992. It was scary experience not being unable to see the sun and the blue sky for days and weeks.

Regrettably, from that year onwards, haze has become annual “tragedy” and we’ve kind of resigned to the fact that it became parts and parcels of our existences in the Southeast Asian region.

And this year is no difference than its predecessors. Since August this year, we have been carrying on our daily life shrouded in haze.

Initially we could still see the sun and occasional blue sky once in a while. But in the past weeks or so, I haven’t seen the blue sky and the sun at all.

Thanks to my curious mind, a bit of online research landed me into a “smoking” history of haze.

Lo and behold! According to a report by the Straits Times (Singapore), in October 1961, the haze caused visibility to deteriorate so heavily that that an aircraft flying from London missed its destination, Kuala Lumpur, and overflew to Singapore.

Then in 1972, the Straits Times also reported that in Oct 18, the Indonesian Department of Agriculture insisted that there were no forest fires big enough to cause the haze that was smothering Singapore back then.

However an Indonesian Air Force Chief warned local authorities that forest fires were so bad that it was disrupting local air communications in the region.

In short, for decades, the region was and would continue to be blanketed by annual haze due to the fires that are caused by firms and farmers who engage in illegal slash-and-burn practices as a relatively inexpensive means of clearing land. The haze has been particularly severe this year due to the El Niño phenomenon which has caused drier conditions, allowing the fires to spread more.

According to Wikipedia, a research published in the Environmental Research Letters stated that 59% of fire emissions in Sumatra and 73% in Kalimantan originated from outside timber and palm oil concession boundaries.

Environmental rights activists also say that palm oil corporations owned by Malaysian and Singaporean investors are among those accused of the illegal burning. I am sure there are some truth in this report.

Always, people with big money get away with almost everything.

Every year we all are subjected to the haze. People protested. And yet, it still is an annual occurences. Sadly, nothing or so little have been done to combat it.

But seriously, I am personally getting really tired, annoyed and frustrated with this. It seems there’s no strongwill from the autorities to step up their plate to solve this annual health hazards.

Imagine if you or your family member are suffering from asthma or any other pulmonary problems. This would be the most dreaded time in their annual calendar.

20150929_081030Residents have been told to stay indoors until the air quality in their areas improves.

Sure, we all can stay indoors, but for how long?

How about the school children (with weak respiratory system) and yet they have to attend school?

I hate to see my children being cooped up in the house all day because of the haze. They need to go out to play or cycling around. And yet we don’t have much choices.

It is great that Malaysia’s aviation and maritime sectors have been put on high alert following a worsening in view of the reduced visibility caused by the haze.

Oh! Big deal that a few hundreds were arrested in Indonesia recently for haze-related offences. How about the mastermind (the big bosses of this big corporations who could be currently and conveniently golfing somewhere in Europe or the USA or Australia to avoid haze)? Why do I get the feeling that those arrested so far are the small fries…

All I want is a solution. And why, after more than decades of facing same problems, with agreement among countries affected was signed 10 years ago, the haze-related problems are still pervalent? Something is very wrong somewhere at the top, and we, the common people have to bear the brunt and the health hazards due to incompetence of our respective governments…

In an interview with the BBC yesterday (Sept 29) Indonesian President Joko Widodo reiterated the steps that Indonesia has taken to tackle the fires but admitted that they needed time to solve them. He said that the fires were “not a problem that you can solve quickly.”

Ironicaly though, his vice president Jusuf Kalla early this year (in March) made a statement underlining Indonesia’s prickliness over the haze issue by saying that his country does not need to apologise for the haze.

He went on to suggest that Singaporeans to thank Indonesia for the nice air that the republic enjoy for 11 months of the year. He further said that Singaporeans have suffered because of the haze for one month and they got upset.

Well, with this mentality among the top people in Indonesia, dare we hope? Guess we just have to wait and see, right? That will be the day. A