It has been hazy and at very unhealthy levels for almost a week. Schools have been closed, outdoor activities have been cancelled. As of yesterday (21st October), approximately 166 hotspots were detected in Sumatra. Parts of central and southern Sumatra continue to be affected by moderate to dense haze. Some reports have reported that the haze from Kalimantan has been detected to move towards southeast of Malaysia.
We have been reading about the haze in news reports and many other publications. We have a crisis in our hands- uncontrolled deforestation, man-made fires, peat land destruction. We are spiraling down into a vortex of unimaginable consequences should we not wake up and face the hard hitting realities of today.
Indonesia, as part of ASEAN, must be made aware of its responsibility as part of the international community. They are part of our international community and we share more than just borders. Malaysia will need to sit down and thrash out bilateral environmental governance agreements to increase cooperation and research across the two countries. Universities, Non-Government Organizations as well as government departments will need to be engaged and involved to effectively enforce change.
People have to understand that ancient forests, both in Malaysia and Indonesia, are a common heritage of mankind. It belongs to the current and the future generation – across borders. The rationalization of Indonesia that open forest fires is a culture practiced for generation within their agriculture industry is no longer acceptable. Drastic actions and culture change must be instituted by Indonesia to curb the forest fires.
In the end, governments can sign agreements and issue censures, but Indonesia itself will need to realize the gravity of the situation and have the political will to effectively enforce change. Non-government organizations play a pivotal role in helping both governments to educate and effectively change behavior at the roots of the society. Budget and avenues for these NGOs to work must be provided and their participation in policy-making must be increased.
While the non-government organization should focus primarily on culture change, the government organizations should focus on implementing policies for environmental management. Scientific data since the 1980’s have sufficiently shown that the haze is caused by forest fires and an annual occurrence. So, it is a phenomenon that the government can anticipate and plan.
The immediate action that the government should take is to form a cross border partnership for environmental crisis. The Star reported yesterday (21st October) that the Malaysian Fire Department was waiting for “the call from Indonesia” to help them in the battling the forest fires. If we have an environmental partnership program, we can form this response unit immediately according to pre-determined structures and can be deployed without a formal invitation. This response unit from both countries can be deployed in an effective and immediate manner for any environmental crisis – land, sea or air.
Law instruments alone are not necessarily effective in obtaining the desired response from the people. To affect change, the law enforcers such as the forestry department and the Malaysian Police should be reinforced and the jurisdiction should be reviewed. Do the Malaysian enforcement agencies have enough manpower and firepower to deal with illegal deforestation? As much as we take Indonesia to task, the Malaysian government should review our own policies and enforcement.
One more component to the equation are the universities and the scientific community. The universities and the scientific community on both sides of the border should increase cooperation and research to innovate. Not just to address this crisis, but avoid future crisis and to create better products that suited t protect the environment. Every faculty should be aligned towards environmental protection and management. Engineering is not the only faculty responsible for innovation. The economics faculty should study the interaction of regional environmental crisis on population growth, industrial technology output, food production and non-renewable resource consumption and suggest policies.
Essentially, as much as this article is about u (humans), it is also about the survival of other species that share the space with us on this planet. Given our modest efforts, we can only hope that we can peacefully sustain ourselves without significantly diminishing the opportunities for other species to flourish. I leave with a reminder from Allah s.w.t:
“Destruction has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness].” (Ar-Ruum – 41)