NATASHA VASS WRITES – Time and time again, we witness the same occurrence: the world’s most pristine environments go up in flames.
Indonesian forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan have spread toxic haze to countries across Southeast Asia. Malaysia’s air pollution index (API) reached a gruesome 101-200, forcing the government to distribute free face masks to thousands of citizens. It has also closed 409 schools.
Singapore’s API has also reached an extraordinary level of 151. To demonstrate the severity of the situation, Beijing – one of the world’s top polluters – is at a level of 50. Air pollutants within Indonesia have become so severe that the province of Jambi declared a state of emergency as the sky turned an eerie color of blood red.
The cause of the fires? Farmers who clear the land for the production of palm oil, pulpwood, and paper. Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, with global demand consistently high.
Forest fires pose a serious worldwide health threat. Fine particulate matter can cause respiratory illness, lung damage and detrimental effects on pregnant women. The United Nations has reported that 10 million children are at risk. These fires also contribute to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation. According to CNN, 800,000 acres of ecologically-rich land have been destroyed.
Although such clearings are illegal, with punishments of up to a $700,000 fine and a 10-year jail sentence, Greenpeace states that the environmental protection law is not enforced. The group thus issued a call to action, pleading for the government to hold companies accountable by carrying out strict sanctions. Investigations of domestic farmers are underway, as well as investigations of the practices of Singaporean and Malaysian companies.
Even so, Indonesia cannot fight against deforestation and global warming alone. Nor can we engage in nation-blaming. A global phenomenon requires global citizens, working together, to come to a global solution. Worldwide health is at stake.