Posted by: masaranghk | October 25, 2015

Short update on the fire situation in Indonesia (23/10/2015)

The situation is worsening, there is no other way to describe it, and there is no end in sight yet for the suffering of people and animals. The satellite image below taken a few days ago shows how the thick yellowish smoke literally carpets the interior of Borneo. And the readings on the PSI instruments are of the charts!


10X higher than the hazardous level!! Everyday there are reports of deaths now and the government has just announced plans to evacuate the most severely sick people to ships to give them clean air to breathe! How on earth are they going to evacuate so many people?? Now they are bringing in tents with air purification updatfire2equipment to locally give patients a chance to breathe! And these patients are merely suffering the short-term effects! How many millions of people will be long-term affected by the particles that have nestled themselves in their lungs?

These are now daily images in the local news media here in Indonesia. People sick and dying, schools closed for weeks at end, no strenuous work possible, more orangutan habitat burning,


including the protected Mawas peat swamp area that I started to save the wild orangutans and where already 15.000 hectares are burned, fires now even at the edge of our orangutan rehabilitation stations! The list of dire effects does not end here…

The economic consequences are severe and long lasting. Thousands of flights cancelled, regions with only rivers as access completely cut of from the outside world and products that would be exchanged for other necessities deteriorating and loosing value. When they can finally be transported the prices will collapse.

Accidents and collisions are happening in the smoke, on roads, on rivers, even at sea! Harvests are failing! Indonesia just instructed its ministers to import 1.5 million tons of rice to feed its people. Today sugar followed, soon many more agricultural products will fall short as well and need to be imported. Fishermen can hardly go out to sea anymore to catch fish. People are desperate for water, springs falling dry everywhere and people are buying water in plastic bottles to bath with. And the obnoxious components in the smoke of the peat fires also impacts plant growth and pollinating insects that will need years to recover from this disaster.

And the haze is angering our neighbors. Today Thailand suffered its worst haze ever. All the way from Indonesia! We always hear first from Singapore, which is more in “the picture”. But Myanmar, updatfire4Malaysia, Brunei, The Philippines and other countries in the region are also receiving our smoke from forest and especially peat fires. Initially our vice president Jusuf Kalla said that Singapore should not complain and be happy for 11 months annually of clean air from Indonesia! And by the way Indonesia initially also refused assistance from other countries in dealing with the fires. Later they accepted the help. But now all these planes showing the sincere commitment to act have gone!! Yes, the Australian planes are back to deal with their own fires and all but one helicopter out of that armada of foreign planes and modern equipment that covered the front pages of the news are now gone according the Jakarta Post this morning.

Well the fires have not! And the planes were of very little use anyway. How on earth can you drop water on fires that you can hardly see in that thick smoke? How can a small load of water from above extinguish a peat fire burning meters underneath the surface?! There is no simple answer anymore. The draining of the peat swamps for oil palms, for taking out timber through canals, it has all happened already. The huge sponges of water retaining peat are now dry, decomposing and on fire. There was no law enforcement and when I read the Indonesian news here it does not look good for the future either! The corruption that basically is the problem is not tackled. On the opposite, there seems a clear concerted effort to break down the campaign against corruption. Today’s Jakarta Post front page shows it all: Corruption, the horrible fires and orangutans coming out of the forests. Right now the Sintang Orangutan Center rescue team is out to try to save a group of five orangutans that have left the forest.

The emissions of the burning forests have now reached epic proportions and the end is still so far away… It is not just Borneo burning, or Sumatra. No, the fires on Sulawesi and especially in far away Papua seem to completely escape scrutiny! Look at the map to the left… Papua is further to the East and the height-width ratio seems unsuitable for publications! Papua falls of the radar… But also there the oil palms have massively entered the region and the results are becoming painfully clear. I am horrified at the prospect of the promotion of oil palms as solution now! How dare they! The government wants to make it easier to get concessions. And they want their own standard together with Malaysia for what is to be called sustainable palm oil, something that in my humble opinion does not even exist! And Malaysia just today said that they did not want to complain to Indonesia about the fires but would just help Indonesia do better oil palm plantations as a solution for the future! I can just gasp and cry!

updatfire5I am sorry for this litany of complaints and frustrations. Masarang can only come up with long-term solutions to help the present disaster areas. Our new forests in North Sulawesi are however helping the people of Tomohon now with life bringing water and the sugar palms we planted can help people survive crop failures from their fruits, starch, palm heart, sugar, honey and protein rich larvae. At least the examples we have put in place give hope that one day we can implement solutions that benefit people, nature as well as the all-consuming business world.

There are so many issues taking your time, immigrants, conflicts, the list is long. But what is happening now, just before COP21 in Paris, is telling us that we cannot just live by the moment and just treat symptoms. Climate change is a problem that needs a long term approach and serious commitment. Nature still provides us with answers. I just hope we have enough time to use them. I hope you will continue to support Masarang in our mission to “Preserve nature through the empowerment of local people”. Politics are not doing the job yet. Local initiatives do show results.

Willie Smits



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