Friday, September 11, 2015

Haze: a Reflection Part 1

Throughout this week, the haze has gone from bad to worse as the air quality (PSI) index soared at the average of 100-200 in some of the days. As some may have realized, high concentrations of haze may become hazardous to human health, the ecosystem, and the environment in general. One of the main causes of haze is forest fire that happened in Indonesia and Malaysia as a result of either prolonged dry season or deliberate clearing of forested lands through slash-and-burn method. Many critics placed the blame on the local and central government by claiming that their responses in enforcing associated regulations or forecasting potential spots were slow and ineffective; while others blamed the palm oil companies that used unsustainable methods to expand/establish new land (clearing by fire). Nonetheless, it is undeniable that forest fire can cause major environmental (air) pollution because forests store large amount of carbon in trees and within the soil, which will be released/emitted into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, haze, and smog in the presence of fire.

As an Indonesian, I'm certainly disappointed and enraged by the haze problem. But through this post, I want to discuss certain matters regarding the haze in a more optimistic point of view, so here I go.

First, enforcing and regulating laws for both local and international palm oil plantations are certainly a challenge for the government. One of the main reasons is because of the decentralized governmental system where the central government may pass a law that can be undermined by the regional governments (since each province is given the autonomy or power to override regulations and to rule itself). The regional governments have their own objectives that may differ from that of the central, such as rapid economic development versus sustainable growth or increased regional income versus nature preservation goals. Furthermore, cases of corruption (although the number of REPORTED cases is now decreasing), become major obstacles in mitigating forest fire in general. The layered, long hierarchical levels of governance in Indonesia (from town head all the way to the central government) makes corruption appears to be much more more lucrative and elusive as tracing becomes increasingly difficult. In a nutshell, it is not so simple to eliminate haze in a matter of days or even years; the complexity and convoluted governmental system in this large nation just make it for us difficult to do so.

Secondly, I feel that our current president (Jokowi) has done a pretty good job in handling the issue through a relatively fast response. On Monday (7/9/2015), when the fire became rampant, he immediately flew directly to South Sumatra (Pekanbaru and Riau) to see the incidence by himself and to lead the whole extinguishing process. Some of us might not be consciously aware of these types of small details as we were too preoccupied with the negatives that we failed to see the amount of effort being put in. In parts of Riau, the haze is so devastating that the index reading has reached over 500 during some of the worse days. Imagine poor families who do not have access to sheltered houses and air conditioning, and have to work outdoor (farming) just to feed the family. Although our haze problem in Singapore is bad, but most of us, if not all, have immediate access to sheltered indoor space that can negate or at least minimize dramatically the effects of haze.

Through this post, I want to implore some to not be so condescending or cynical to our neighbors, but instead we should show support so that the haze problem can be solved as soon as possible.

Nazeer, Z. (2015, September 7). Indonesian President Joko Widodo goes to haze's ground zero, SE Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times. Retrieved from "The Straits Time".

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