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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Dec 17, 2007 Indonesian Haze

Dec 17, 2007
Some doubts linger
THERE was a different atmosphere when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met in Bali during the just-concluded conference on climate change. This year, Indonesia did not export haze to neighbouring countries.
Both are surely happy.

There had been no reports of Indonesia, Singapore or Malaysia being hit by the haze, which can affect daily activities and aviation.

Some said this is a result of Indonesia overcoming forest burning and the new land clearings. But others cynically feel it is due to the rainy season coming earlier than usual. Indeed, razing of farmlands is usually done at the end of the dry season so that the fires can be doused by rainfall.

But is it true that there has been no haze at all? Not really. At the end of the dry spell, many fire points had been discovered. Not as many as usual and not as big as during the past years, so the haze did not get to reach other countries. Meanwhile, local residents in a number of areas in Kalimantan and Sumatra did experience some haze problems.

We hope the reduction in the movement of the haze is due more to the government's action and awareness of (farm) operators. But it must be admitted that, until today, there hasn't been any detailed explanation about the fact that we have not been overcome by haze as usual.

Isn't there confirmation that the absence of the haze is due to the rainy season coming earlier? We await the government's explanation.

Actually, it is easy for the government to stop the haze invasion. Even though it has never been admitted, we are more convinced that the burning of land is done by operators who want to develop plantations, such as oil palm.

But we are always made to believe that burning of lands is done by transient farmers. The question is: why didn't this take place in the past? Why only now, during the time of much deforestation and opening of big farmlands?

Herein lies the importance of honesty on all sides. In the issue of forest fires, the parties concerned are the district government, the police and the Forestry Department. In their hands lie the responsibility of monitoring as well as deterring and acting against those who are fond of burning forests.

Through their honesty, if there are forests on fire, they only need to look at the papers stating ownership and authority on the land, the permits for farming, and groups that can mobilise manpower for forest burning.

Yet, a moderate solution becomes complicated if we are corrupt. A host of reasons will be conjured, when the Indonesian police is proven to be more sophisticated than the US police. The proof: the ability of the Indonesian police to nab criminals is much better than US police.

And most spectacular is when the Indonesian police, better than any police force in the world, is able to uncover the terrorism network to its roots. So uncovering perpetrators of forest fires should just be at the tips of their hands.

We are grateful that we have been able to go through 2007 without any significant invasion of the haze. Hopefully in 2008 and the years to come, there will no longer be forest burning. This is the nicest gift for the climate change conference in Bali.

This editorial appeared in Indonesia's Republika last Friday.

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