Every year for as long as I can remember, this time of year has been a smoky, hazy month in Sumatra – and each year it’s getting worse. I’ve chatted to farmers, doctors, and parents, and everywhere I hear the same thing: the Haze Wave has to stop.
If you haven’t heard of the Haze Wave, then you need to know this: it’s a global threat and a public health disaster. Here’s 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 tonnes upon tonnes 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 has 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. That’s why today, Greenpeace has revealed some startling findings that shed light on this crisis. Here’s a snapshot:
- Riau, in Sumatra, is ground zero for forest and peatland destruction, and the centre of the country’s palm oil and pulp and paper industry – it’s 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 government’s 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.
It’s usually saturated with water. Indonesia’s peat stores a crazy amount of carbon – up to 60 billion tonnes, which makes it a virtual carbon bomb if even some of it was released into the air. And that’s 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 can’t 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 giants like Asia Pulp & Paper to end their role in forest destruction. There’s momentum. That’s why this year we need to come together and demand that outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono firms up his green legacy.
It’s time more companies become part of the solution and commit to No Deforestation. And it’s 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 Indonesia’s forests.
Zamzami is a media campaigner with Greenpeace Southeast Asia. He lives in Pekanbaru with his wife and child… And he’s sick of the haze!
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