Are Indonesia’s forest fires being ignored?
2015-12-01 15:51:48 -
World News

Philipp Sommerhalter


Recent tragic events may have caused for other disasters to be overlooked by the world’s media. But such tragedies are not an excuse for those with the power to help to take the issue of Indonesia’s dreadful forest fires lightly. 


Indonesia’s forests have been ablaze for two months now, and they were no accident. The main cause is believed to be intentional ‘slash and burn’ of forested areas to make space for palm oil and wood pulp plantations.


As a result of these fires, the whole region has been enveloped in a smoky cloud known as the Southeast Asian Haze. Visibility in some parts has been reduced to only 50 metres by the deadly smog, playing havoc with transport networks, while people in neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines have been  affected by respiratory illnesses caused by this air pollution crisis. Among them was the death of a nine-year-old child due to smoke inhalation.


Nasa has reported that this year’s haze crisis may be the worst one yet if the fires continue unabated. The fires have even been labeled as a crime against humanity, with CO2 emissions equivalent to Germany’s annual output. It’s a crisis that could potentially cost Indonesia €14 billion.


And it’s not only humans who have been affected. It must not be forgotten that the forests are home to many species, some critically endangered such as the orang-utan.


Sixteen baby Sumatran orang-utans have been treated for respiratory infections by conservationists, but the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation isn’t sure of how many others have died due to the fires. The blazes, which are by now almost annual, have destroyed over 80 per cent of the orang-utans’ habitat, leaving only 40,000 on the island of Borneo.


“The world cannot afford to ignore this crisis any longer,” said Alan Knight, chief executive of International Animal Rescue (IAR). “If we don’t act to save the orang-utan and its habitat, they will both be lost to us forever.” But the Indonesian government has been criticised for not taking the issue seriously enough.


While police have arrested seven company executives believed to have been responsible for the illegal slash and burn that caused this year’s fires, surrounding countries have requested that Indonesia take greater action, with the likes of Singapore even offering help by supplying gas masks and planes to extinguish the fires. The government has deployed 20,000 security forces to extinguish the fires, and promises to eradicate these common blazes by 2030 via this and other methods being debated, such as cloud seeding.


But is it enough? Perhaps if the western media covered this topic more, it would put greater pressure on the Indonesian government to take immediate action. This issue doesn’t only affect one country, it affects the whole world that we share.



Philipp Sommerhalter is a pupil at St Kilian’s German School.

TAGS : Indonesia Forest Fires Nature Animals Air Pollution
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