Stop the suffocating haze from forest fires in Indonesia

by Guest Blogger

May 28, 2014

A fisherman crosses the Rokan river through the haze in Rokan Hilir Regency in Riau, Sumatra.

© Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace

Every year for as long as I can remember, this time of year has been a smoky, hazy month in Sumatra and each year its getting worse. Ive chatted to farmers, doctors, and parents, and everywhere I hear the same thing: the Haze Wave has to stop.

If you havent heard of the Haze Wave, then you need to know this: its a global threat and a public health disaster. Heres a brief history:

In 1997, an extended drought fuelled the most intense forest fires to date, spewing air pollution as far as Singapore. Described as a carbon bomb, these fires pumped tons upon tons of carbon into the air and were credited with a spike in greenhouse gas emissions that year.

Last year, Greenpeace was one of the first NGOs to call out palm oil companies for their role in the fires. The Haze Wave sent pollution levels in Singapore skyrocketing, sparking frenzied buying of facemasks and a swathe of regional meetings between regional governments.

This year, it could get worse. Weather patterns are colluding to make this a particularly strong drought. And more peat and forest have been cleared then ever before, creating a giant tinderbox.

Now is the time for action.

My country is about to go to the polls to elect new leaders in July. And now more than ever we need to push for stronger government action. Thats why today, Greenpeace has revealed some startling findings that shed light on this crisis. Heres a snapshot:

  • Riau, in Sumatra,is ground zero for forest and peatland destruction, and the centre of the countrys palm oil and pulp and paper industry its also where 75% of peat fires take place.
  • The frequency of fire hotspots is five times higher on peat compared to mineral soils.
  • 30%of fire hotspots actually occurred on land meant to be protected under the governments moratorium on forest clearance.

The conclusion? The Haze Wave is rooted not in random spots for no reason; instead it’s the result of decades of forest and peatland destruction.

Peat. The carbon bomb you probably didn’t know about.

Its usually saturated with water. Indonesias peat stores a crazy amount of carbon up to 60 billion metric tons, which makes it a virtual carbon bomb if even some of it was released into the air. And thats not to mention the health impacts. A study in 2012 attributed an average of 110,000 deaths a year to these forest/peat fires in Southeast Asia. They add untold amounts of air pollution to metropolises across the region, including Singapore.

Business as usual cant go on.

The debate in my part of the world is still on punishment and Band-Aid solutions, rather than fires prevention and keeping companies out of the forest and off our peatland.

In the last 12 months, Greenpeace supporters have pushed companies like Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and even forest-product giants like Asia Pulp & Paper to end their role in forest destruction and forest fires. Theres momentum. Thats why this year we need to come together and demand that outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono firms up his green legacy.

Its time more companies become part of the solution and commit to No Deforestation. And its now time for the government to introduce measures that protect all peat and all forests.

Join us as we embark on the next chapter in saving Indonesias forests.

Share this story of the families living through the forest fires. And take action here.

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