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Haze Returns to Southeast Asia as Indonesia's Forest Fires Reach Critical Level

Malaysia's Petronas Twin Towers and surrounding buildings are seen shrouded in a thick haze in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from forest fires in the region. Photo by Muhammad Shafiq Mohd Zain, Copyright @Demotix (9/12/2015)

Malaysia's Petronas Twin Towers and surrounding buildings are seen shrouded in a thick haze in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from forest fires in the region. Photo by Muhammad Shafiq Mohd Zain, Copyright @Demotix (9/12/2015)

Forest fires in Indonesia brought haze to the country's skies, and the smoke has also affected Malaysia and Singapore. This has been an annual problem in the Southeast Asian region, typically blamed on drought and land clearings by palm oil companies in the western part of Indonesia.

This year's forest fire was confirmed by Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo on Twitter:

This morning, I'm supervising directly the forest fire handling in Banyuasin, S. Sumatra. All hands on deck – Jkw

Following his visit to South Sumatra, the president ordered the arrest of those who are responsible for the recent case of burning forests. In addition, he instructed government agencies to revoke the permits of the palm oil companies which had destroyed the forest in the area. President Widodo elaborated further on his Facebook page:

Tadi saya memantau bencana asap. Titik api terbanyak di Sumatera Selatan. Tapi hari ini jumlahnya menurun dari 321 menjadi 129 titik. Katanya tahun lalu 8.000 ha hutan yang terbakar, sekarang 1.000 ha lebih sedikit.
Kebakaran hutan tidak bisa ditolerir lagi. Penyebab dan solusinya sudah diketahui. Perusahaan yang lakukan pembakaran harus dicabut izinnya, dan dipidanakan.
Ke depan tindakan pencegahan jauh lebih penting. Harus dibuat sistem di mana pemilik lahan memiliki kewajiban untuk mencegah, supaya kebakaran tidak terus berulang.

I supervised the haze disaster. South Sumatra had the biggest number of hotspots. But today the number was reduced from 321 to 129 hotspots. Last year, forest fires destroyed 8,000 hectares; this year it's down by 1,000 hectares.

Forest burning can't be tolerated anymore. We've discovered the cause and solutions. Companies which commissioned the forest clearing should be stripped of their licenses and brought to justice.

In the future, prevention measures should be the priority.

According to the Center for International Forest Research, forest fires in Indonesia are caused mainly by human activities. The slash and burn practice is recognized as the easiest and most economical way for palm oil companies to clear the land. But based on the Indonesian Forestry Law No. 41/1999 Paragraph 50 verse 3d, an individual who caused a forest fire can be jailed for up to 15 years. This is the provision in the law which the president wants to implement strictly.

Commercial flights have been cancelled in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, where the ‘ground zero’ of the forest fires is located. Meanwhile, the number of hotspots continues to increase in Kalimantan (the Indonesian territory in Borneo Island).

Forest fire expands, Kalimantan is surrounded by 1,274 hotspots.


Titik kebakaran hutan hari ini terbanyak di kalimantan. Cek info selanjutnya di @infobencana
— Melek Bencana (@melek_bencana) September 6, 2015

Most hotspots today were spotted in Kalimantan.


Asap dari kebakaran hutan lahan di Rengat Inhu Riau. Sebelumnya sudah padam. Tapi dibakar lagi.
— Sutopo Purwo Nugroho (@Sutopo_BNPB) September 12, 2015

Smoke from forest fire in Rengat Inhu Riau. The fire was already contained recently but someone reignited the fire.

On its Facebook page, Greenpeace Indonesia announced the death of a 12-year old girl due to respiratory complications from the smoke. The girl had been treated in a hospital for one week before her passing. Greenpeace called for a firm and sustainable solution to the Indonesian haze problem.

Haze Reaches Malaysia and Singapore

Singaporeans and Malaysians have been complaining in the past few days about the return of the haze from the Indonesian fires. Some used humor to describe the impact of the smoke in their cities.


Singapore version of haagen daz is haze n dust. 😷😊🙊
— Ionic_cong (@yicong1) September 12, 2015


#haze #singapore unstoppable sneeze and itchy nose. Indonesia, please stop burning the forrest. Shame…

— Ranggani Puspandya (@rangganipb) September 12, 2015


Haze Runner: The Scorch Trials (Malaysia) 😷😓
— JEFF (@itshazeem) September 11, 2015


How to make smoked salmon in SG: place a slice of salmon outside your window. Wait for 10mins. #sghaze — Xavier Lur (@xavierlur) September 7, 2015

While the smoke came from Indonesia, some of the palm oil companies that destroyed the forests were financed by companies from Malaysia and Singapore. This makes the annual haze from forest fires not just an Indonesian problem, but a broader regional issue.

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