President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) has received his first telephone call from Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, offering this country’s assistance in dealing with the repetitive haze that distresses Malaysians every year. This sort of show could not have been staged every dry season had the central and regional governments of Sumatra and Kalimantan started campaigning to prevent their estates and forests from being burned as early as April or May, at the same time enforcing the law against perpetrators.
This “distress” phone call for SBY should be the first and the last, as such forest fires have been inherited from his predecessors, the biggest of which occurred in 1997-1998 at the cost of approximately US$9 billion, hitting almost all of the Southeast Asia region (The Jakarta Post, Aug. 15). So far, there have not been concrete measures taken as to how a recurrence of these forest fires can be halted.
The lack of seriousness shown by his predecessors in dealing with these forest fires must not be repeated by SBY’s government, as the disruptions to social and economic activities are severe.
Malaysian haze haters’ disappointment is understandable. They vent their anger in various forms either by demonstrating in front of the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur, demanding the Indonesian government to seriously deal with the fires, or going online in their websites (http://hazeinmy.blogspot.com) demanding that Indonesians stop choking them every single year (the Post, Aug. 12).
Malaysian government’s offer to help to extinguish the forest fires is also understandable as their minister of forestry admitted that many Malaysian estate and wood companies operating in Indonesia were among the perpetrators of the fires. Sumatran and Kalimantan soil strata consists of peat soil that is highly combustible, especially during dry season.
Peat soil is scientifically known as young coal made out of black or brown decaying plants that is found under the ground in cool, wet, moorland regions. Once a dry spell hits such regions, fire can easily take hold in the soil, and it burns both above and under the ground, making such fires very difficult to put out.