I just got home from a working trip in Boracay. Little did I know that one of the most remarkable parts of the trip will happen on our flight back to Manila.
This picture clearly shows that the haze wave from Indonesia has reached Metro Manila (unless this thick smog came from our very own backyard), counter to what our government tells us.
There are four realities to this Southeast Asian ‘haze wave’ phenomenon:
- Haze is NOT a “natural” hazard as claimed by some. Indonesian forest fires are a result of land clearing by smallholders of agricultural lands and plantation owners. Forest fires are deliberately timed annually by opportunistic plantation owners to take advantage of the dry season to burn an entire forest down. They do not happen spontaneously.
- The reason farmers and plantation owners prefer this method is because it is cheap. It only costs US$5 to clear on hectare of land by burning trees to the ground and over US$250 per hectare to do so by other methods of land clearance.
- Indonesian forest fires and haze remind us of how difficult it is to manage and resolve environmental issues at a transnational level. The haze does not observe political or administrative boundaries, as with all environmental problems. We are all affected by the environment which brings us to the next reality.
- All natural systems are interrelated. Our environment demonstrates how integrated our world is in spite of political systems trying to divide nature and separate ecosystems along arbitrary political, economic and social borders, and spatial boundaries.
Now the question is: what to do next?
IMO, the haze problem is a conundrum that’s difficult to resolve. My idealistic self tells me that the right thing to do is to stop deforestation altogether. Of course, that’s never going to happen.
On one hand, we need fresh air and sunshine–things that are indispensable to life and everyone ought to have access to for free.
On the other, you have Indonesia, a poor yet fast-growing economy with forests and land as primary resources which they have freedom to monetize.
I guess for now what I would suggest is for Indonesia to provide subsidies for non-polluting, non-destructive land clearance techniques and land use instead of the unsustainable slash-and-burn.
Developed countries should also help developing countries find other alternatives for growth. It is unfair to call out developing countries for using their resources to grow especially when the developed ones have already done so with theirs before in the name of growth.
Also, I hope Indonesia realizes sooner that there’s so much to lose from this environmental hazard. Studies show that its economy is losing US$3.5-B from fires and haze alone.
There is science to enlighten decisions on all levels of government and to find sustainable and enduring solutions, for Indonesia’s own sake.