Jakarta – It has been a cause for concern in the region that fires razing Indonesian forests have led to a haze crisis in Malaysia.
Although Indonesia has denied that the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan have caused haze in the neighbouring country, it is indisputable that fires are on the rise again this year.
Wildfires burned through 42,740 hectares of land from January to May, nearly double the figure in the same period last year of 23,745 ha. The number of forest fires began to increase in 2018, affecting 510,000 ha throughout the year.
The fires came after the country previously curbed the scale of forest fires, with 165,000 ha burned in 2017 compared with 2.6 million ha in 2015 – one of the country's worst fire disasters.
The new low that we may be heading to this year – if warnings go unheeded – may wipe out the progress that the country had achieved earlier. And this is not good.
People will suffer from respiratory problems and face constraints in their daily activities because of thickening haze. Death is not impossible as at least 24 reportedly died because of haze in 2015.
Palm oil, one of the country's flagship commodities, may face a backlash as it has been blamed as the cause of forest destruction and the fires.
This does not sound like a good way to start a second term for President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who will be inaugurated in October.
In fact, it looks like deja vu as the 2015 fire disaster coincided with his first days in office. Jokowi's administration should not let its guard down.
The government, along with local administrations and the private sector, should activate and ensure that task forces and programs that they have set up give their best just like what they did in 2016 and 2017.
If the fires are getting out of hand, the government should not hesitate to cooperate with neighbouring countries to extinguish the fires.
ASEAN already has a treaty in place, the ASEAN Agreement on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution (AATHP), which was signed in 2002.
Known as the haze treaty, it includes the establishment and operationalisation of the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Trans-boundary Haze Pollution under the AATHP, which will facilitate faster and effective implementation of all aspects of the AATHP to address trans-boundary haze pollution.
ASEAN countries, including Indonesia and Malaysia, share islands and borders, making it impossible to exclude one another from the haze crisis. This is why it is important to coordinate resources and efforts to act together to resolve the problem.
Moreover, Indonesia and Malaysia, as the world's largest producers of palm oil, have the same interest to improve the image of the commodity that is burdened with tariffs as a consequence as being perceived as the cause of environmental degradation.
Whatever went right in 2016 and 2017, the government should make it happen again. And Jokowi is expected to do more, or otherwise, the achievements that he made in bringing down forest fires will only become history, instead of a legacy.
– The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network