As region chokes on haze, Indonesian media asks if country is doing enough about ‘deadly spectre’

Indonesian firefighters battle a forest fire in Kampar, Riau September 9, 2019. — AFP pic
Indonesian firefighters battle a forest fire in Kampar, Riau September 9, 2019. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 14 — The Jakarta Post questioned the extent of Indonesia’s efforts to combat what has become the annual transboundary haze phenomenon, noting that open burning has worsened over the years.

In an opinion piece yesterday, the news outlet’s editors conceded that Indonesia has sent out dozens of helicopters and used up over 200 million litres of water to try and control the raging fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Jakarta has also directed over 9,000 workers from various agencies as part of the efforts to curb open burning blamed for the haze.

“But with more than 5,000 hot spots detected across Indonesia just in the past week, more and more people are beginning to wonder: Is Indonesia doing enough this time around?

“It is hard to deny that the growing number of hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan this year has had an adverse effect on the overall quality of air in the region. Several parts of Southeast Asia have seen very little rain in recent months because of the El Niño weather pattern, making the threat of forest fires even more palpable than in recent years,” the opinion piece said.

The Jakarta Post also appeared to criticise the country’s administration for refusing help from Asean neighbours to combat the problem, noting that the geography of the region made it “practically impossible” to deal with the chronic issue without bilateral cooperation.

Jakarta has repeatedly rejected aid offered by Putrajaya and Singapore that are both anxious to aid Indonesia in controlling the fires that have engulfed the three countries in a noxious haze.

Parts of Kalimantan recorded air quality levels that are far into the hazardous range — well into the 700 API range — while parts of Malaysia are now experiencing very unhealthy air.

A motorist wears a mask as he travels past the Petronas Twin Towers shrouded in haze in Kuala Lumpur September 12, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
A motorist wears a mask as he travels past the Petronas Twin Towers shrouded in haze in Kuala Lumpur September 12, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

Yesterday, Indonesia responded by sealing off land at 29 plantations including several that it insists are Malaysian-owned, in a move motivated by its zeal to prove that Indonesia was not solely at fault for the crisis.

Malaysia’s Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin has continued to urge her Indonesian counterpart to be “objective” and “sequential” in analysing data on hotspots within Indonesia and Malaysia, in a bid to end the diplomatic row and pave the way for substantive remedial action.

Yeo also said Malaysia would not have any issue with Indonesia punishing those found responsible for the open burning even if they should be linked to Malaysia, saying the key objective was to extinguish the fires as quickly as possible.