THE BLOG
26/10/2015 12:34 GMT | Updated 23/10/2016 06:12 BST

Snuffing Out Fires in Indonesia

Recently, I had an intriguing conversation with several individuals in Indonesia about how their region is once again clouded with tedious smog as illicit blaze scorch throughout the country. The yearly plague has been further worsened by weather patterns that expedite the blaze and make it harder to snuff the blazes out. Consequently, a very thick gloom of smog has cascaded on surrounding nations, sparking health and political issues. Like in previous years, the Indonesian government appears incapable to oversight the circumstance. And it also seems that neighbouring countries are powerless to spur the Indonesians to find robust solutions.

In Indonesia, blazes are ignited every year throughout the dry period to clear land for paper, pulp, as well as palm oil ranches. Despite illegal, it has barely decelerated landowners and farmers; fires are initiated in isolated areas, are not done 'formally,' and it is usually extremely hard to recognise whose land is searing. That is, finding those responsible is not an easy chore, even often impossible. And in many instances, the burned land has marshlands that are able to snare fire and then fester underground for a long period of time, impossible to be quenched.

Utilising fire is a conventional approach to clear land, but the fog has particularly become difficult during the last twenty years. Many critics put the blame on increasing appeal for palm and wood commodities originated from these regions, and changing climate patterns that have further worsened the smog. Dry season expedites blazing and make it more difficult to extinguish blazes once they have initiated. That blend endangers to make this year's haze the most precarious ever.

The consequence has been an increase in breathing issues throughout Southeast Asia, with official predictions touching precarious levels in Indonesia and other parts of the region. It is reported that over 150,000 individuals endured severe breathing issues in seven provinces. Several educational institutions inside Indonesia as well as in neighbouring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia have been faced with closures. In addition, air connectivity has also been rattled, and daily economic activities are suffering. It is predicted that the direct economic repercussion of this year's smog will outpace the $9 billion in destruction that took place in previous years.

Jakarta's response has been varied. Even though it has organised substantial resources to combat the blazes, it has not declared a national emergency. A report indicates that more than twenty thousands people have been sent and $35 million have been spent to put an end to the situation. What is strange, however, the Jokowi government has declined Singapore's offers of help.

Not to forget, that approximately 100 individuals and 200 firms have been under investigation for the blazes. But sadly many of these estates are belong to individuals with political links and it can be said that imposition of law has been desultory at most.

I believe the best approach so far has been the naming and shaming of firms and individuals liable for the blazes. This, however, is convoluted by the predicament in finding the owner of particular plots of land: registries are dispersed and out-of-date. It is reported that Jakarta has decided to relinquish the names of firms allegedly answerable for igniting the blazes. What is also important is that regional countries should also be pressuring to chastise those corporations by outlawing their goods and products.

What I find more unfortunate is that ASEAN has not been able to help putting an end to the situation although there is an instrument to do so - the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which was signed and ratified by all its members in 2002.

It can no longer be ignored that the situation must end soon. It is more than obvious that many people are in dire need of serious and concrete efforts by both the government in Jakarta and the regional community to alleviate the deteriorating condition. The most crucial step that needs to be taken is to hit corporations liable on their far end. Not only by taking them to courts, but by banning their products. When it comes to a long-term solution, many scientists have argued that there are many different methods to clear land securely. Both governments and consumers must encourage the use of sustainable palm oil bearing methods, particularly those that are certified as 'green.'