The recent haze encountered by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and it’s neighbouring, countries have badly affected the nations, the young and the old. The haze was an after effect of the vast open burning done in the rural plantation areas within Indonesia at large.
Credit: Petronas Twin Towers are shrouded by haze in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 9, 2019. Picture was taken on September 9, 2019. (Reuters/Lim Huey Teng)
Open burning or also known as slash & burn is exercised by the farmers/Big Corporation mainly due to a number of reasons such as:
- The easiest way for farmers to clear their land & get rid of any potential disease for their crops.
- Farmers chose the cheaper option of slash & burn method to their advantage.
- One hectare land was to be cleared legally by chopping down the tree, which produces almost 500 ton of bio-mass.
- It takes almost three years for that bio-mass to decompose and the land to become usable for plantations.
- Using slash & burn makes the process faster and cost-effective, at least in the short run.
Credit: BBC News
However, there are disadvantages to slash & burn activities, which are mainly:
- The dry season between July & October during the slash & burn activity makes the situation worse.
- The burnt land will turn drier, which makes it more likely to catch fire during the slash & burn clearings.
Credit: FILE – Haze from forest fires blankets villages along Kahayan river in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, Sept. 20, 2019. Haze blown by monsoon winds from fires in Indonesia has begun affecting some areas of the Philippines.
Slash & burn activity could not be controlled by Indonesia, mainly due to corruption and weak governance and the movement of the fire itself within the soil once the burning starts. Some of the gaps in controlling the open burning activity include:
- Slash & burn is illegitimate in the country but has been allowed to happen for many years.
- Some companies appeared “to operate outside the law for years with little sanction”.
- The lack of government transparency makes it difficult for independent monitoring: concession maps are incomplete, data is lacking with very weak enforcement of laws
- Indonesia is experiencing difficulty enforcing the rules and regulations via the authority body in handling vast rural burning Sumatra and Kalimantan.
- The Association ASEAN approved ASEAN agreement on trans-boundary haze pollution in 2002.
- The Indonesia President, Mr Joko Widodo told the news agency that his country needed at least three years to solve issue haze in Sep 2015, however, four years later, the forests are still burning.
- Peatland burning is also one of the hardest to be controlled.
- Firefighter and army faced difficulty to put out the fires, many of which have burned at flammable and dry peat-rich areas.
- A peat fire is difficult to extinguish and it can burn underground for months, and requires a lot of water to put out. Fires can spread underground and spring up in other places later.
- Indonesia has laws in place to protect Peat land but is rarely seen enforced.
Indonesia’s attitude towards the haze is on a questioning matter when they continue to blame Malaysia & Singapore Investor on the matter.
- Indonesia has named several firms, including Singapore and Malaysia-based palm oil companies, which is said equally responsible for the fire.
- Many of those companies have denied any involvement and have accused the local farmers of starting the fires to clear the land.
- APRIL (A Singapore’s company) says all fires it had detected originally started outside of its concession areas and had spread into its concessions.
- Sime Darby (A Malaysia’s Company) says they followed “a zero burning policy throughout its operations”. Fires were reported in a concession area of one of its subsidiaries in Riau, it said, but it could not “exert control over activities beyond its operating areas and where it is occupied by others”.
Credit: A view of the city skyline shrouded by haze in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 11.PHOTO: REUTERS
Internally within Indonesia itself, the government can practice some of the listed solutions to curb the slash & burn exercise or illegal open burning.
- Make forest moratorium permanent.
- Ban on new permits affecting primary forests and Peatlands, known simply as the forest moratorium to become permanent.
- The moratorium slated has already expired in July 2019 but has been extended to expire in 2021. It was first implemented in 2011 under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The moratorium aims to protect 64 million hectares of forests and is part of Indonesia’s effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
- Banning the use of forests and Peatland, areas for new plantations can reduce fires because planters often burn cleared land to prepare it for planting.
- Improve transparency and public access to forest land information
- Have an open palm oil plantation data accessible as it is vital to point out who’s accountable for the burned areas as well as to enforce the law.
- The government should improve its One Map Initiative to integrate maps across the nation and to make data on who owns or manages palm oil plantations available to the public.
- The government to show the political will to provide open and transparent geospatial data.
- The government should not be reluctant in providing all the information as it hinders the process of clarifying the status of 3.47 million hectares of oil palm plantations that overlap with forest areas.
- This will also prevent the illegal development of oil palm plantations that are often connected to man-made forest and Peatland fires.
Externally, the neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and other ASEAN countries, they could also jointly do some of the listed to curb the matter.
- Malaysia Anti-haze law must extend beyond borders. The Malaysia government can provide for extraterritorial powers in the proposed law on Transboundary haze, using a US anti-corruption law and a Singapore transboundary, haze law as models.
- Attorney-General’s Chambers can take legal action against any Malaysian companies if they or their subsidiaries abroad were found to be involved in causing transboundary haze pollution.
- Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) 1977 (USA) – Company and person can be held criminally and civilly responsible for corruption offences committed abroad.
- Several types of punishments, such as higher fine, imprisonment or whipping, while in terms of administration, it would be more on payments for cleaning works, firefighting operations and land rehabilitation, apart from civil punishment such as compensatory and punitive damages.
- A most effective method was for Malaysia and Indonesia to sit down and discuss the suitable punishments for the offences, with Malaysia to give full cooperation when needed.
- Alternatively, ASEAN countries should also work together. Malaysia and Indonesia can work together and overcome the annual haze problem instead of playing the blame game include other ASEAN Country.
- A single body, answerable directly to the prime minister and president of both nations respectively, must be formed to look into the root cause of the issue, with detailed weekly reports and updates on hand.
- The body should work closely with the private sector and adopt the latest technology in assessing the situation, including drones and satellite imaging.
- Leaders of both nations need to come up with severe penalties, including economic punishments, to be imposed against those found responsible.