In a haze over forest fires

“What we know is that there are several foreign investors from Singapore involved. But we can’t just blame them for this since we still need to investigate this further,” said Hadi Daryanto, a senior official at Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry.

In this age of satellite imagery what further investigation is needed to zoom in on the plantations with forest fires and punish them? What fumes is the Forestry Ministry and other Indonesian officials inhaling?

Singapore’s air turns “hazardous” as Indonesian fires rage
20-Jun-2013 00:31

Pollution index tops 300, indicating hazardous air quality Singapore sending delegation to Indonesia on Thursday Indonesia suggests Singapore companies partly to blame

By Kevin Lim and Eveline Danubrata
SINGAPORE, June 19 (Reuters) – Singapore’s air quality deteriorated to “hazardous” levels late on Wednesday as smoke from slash-and-burn land clearing in Indonesia enveloped the city-state, inflaming tensions between the Southeast Asian neighbours.
Singapore, a major financial centre, will send a delegation to Jakarta on Thursday to discuss the smog that has turned its usually clear skies grey, Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told a news conference.
The outlines of skyscrapers were barely visible in the central core of the bustling city-state and the smell of burnt wood permeated the air.
“Things will get worse before getting better,” the Today newspaper quoted Balakrishnan as saying on its Twitter feed.
The Pollution Standards Index (PSI) soared to a record high of 321 at 10 p.m., up from 290 just an hour earlier and below 200 earlier in the day. The haze has also shrouded some parts of Malaysia.
A PSI reading above 300 indicates “hazardous” air quality, while a reading between 201 and 300 means “very unhealthy”.
The 321 level smashed the previous record of 226 reached in Singapore in 1997 when smoke from Indonesian fires disrupted shipping and air travel across Southeast Asia.
Operations at Singapore’s Changi Airport, an Asian aviation hub, have not been affected so far but work at some construction sites appeared to have stopped or slowed.
Drug stores and supermarkets ran out of face masks and people queued in long lines to buy multiple boxes of them when fresh supplies came in.
Raffles Quay Asset Management, which manages the Marina Bay Financial Centre complex that houses many of the banks operating in Singapore, said it has issued face masks to security staff.
“They are stationed outdoors for long hours and directly exposed to the haze,” it said.
The illegal burning of forests to clear land for palm plantations is a recurring problem in Indonesia, particularly during the annual dry season from June to September.
Indonesian officials have suggested companies based in Singapore may be partly to blame for the blazes. Singapore has said it wants Indonesia to provide maps of land concessions so it can act against firms that allow slash-and-burn farming.
“What we know is that there are several foreign investors from Singapore involved. But we can’t just blame them for this since we still need to investigate this further,” said Hadi Daryanto, a senior official at Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry.
Singapore-based palm oil companies with land concessions in Indonesia include Wilmar International Ltd WLIL.SI, Golden Agri-Resources Ltd GAGR.SI and First Resources Ltd FRLD.SI.
Wilmar, Golden-Agri and First Resources said on Wednesday they had a “zero burning” policies and used only mechanical means to clear land. Cargill, whose Asia-Pacific regional hub is in Singapore, said there were no hotspots nor fire on its plantations in South Sumatra and West Kalimantan.

Brazilian solution to end deforestation in Indonesia?

This just in from a reader. Dow Jones has carried a story in which Brazil apparently may have the answer to how Indonesia can stop illegal logging:

Just over 20 years on from its shift to democracy, Brazil could provide valuable insight into sustainability to another of the world’s largest forested countries, Indonesia, and strengthen diplomatic ties in doing so, an official said.

The increasingly democratic nature of Brazil’s governance has been key in the country’s success in reducing the rate of deforestation, which worsened almost unchecked during its decades of dictatorship, Jose Soares Jr., deputy chief of mission at Brazil’s Jakarta embassy, told Dow Jones Newswires in a recent interview.

Brazil is now less tolerant of corruption Continue reading “Brazilian solution to end deforestation in Indonesia?”

Hazing the argument

In rhetoric it is a common but cheap trick to introduce an extraneous point and try to make it the issue instead of the one at hand. Smoke and mirrors stuff, you might say.

Indonesia’s House of Representatives members are particularly skilled at this art, as they have recently stalled ratifying the ASEAN agreement allowing our neighbors to help us fight the haze that’s choking neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.

The reason? Lawmakers would not ratify the agreement until illegal logging provisions are included. They feel that unscrupulous Malaysians  are camped along the border waiting to buy illegal timber. Since the harvesting of illegal timber also contributes to the haze, they reason, they would not ratify it until the Malaysians promise to be good boys and include a provision saying they’ll not buy illegal timber and punish the evil illegal timbermen.

This is just BS. The agreement is about fighting fires to stop the haze. It is about getting negihbors to lend a hand since Indonesia does not have its act together in resources to put out the fires whose smoke is choking our neighbors and causing them millions of dollars in health of their people and disruption.

The issue of illegal logging is one of enforcement by Indonesian authorities since the harvesting, though it may be done by Malaysians and others, is carried out within Indonesian soil. The Indonesian authorities have that onus, no one else.

The problem is that the Indonesian authorities just haven’t got their act together when it comes to enforcement of the law, which seems to be an alient concept. All one needs to do is have a look at the traffic in Jakarta, where  busses can stop in the middle of the road to let down and pick up passengers,  and in the process cause massive unnecessary traffic jams,  to see what Unspun means.