Fires can be the same and different. There are at least three facets to the fire in Indonesia that have distinguished the devastation from that in the forests of Amazon. For one, the haze from the flames has spread to Singapore, Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo islands.
Second, unlike Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, the government in Indonesia has responded suitably to the catastrophe. Yet another must be that just as wildfires are “welcome” to clear land for industry, as in the Amazon, so too have “illegal fires” cleared the land for agricultural plantations in a swathe of Asia. The underpinning is bizarre if indeed commercial interests ~ be it industry or agricultural economy ~ are accorded precedence to the need to douse the flames.
The fire is blazing out of control in the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, with the government in Jakarta deploying thousands of security forces and water-bombing aircraft to tackle them.
Indonesia has assured its domestic constituency as well as the governments in the neighbouring countries that its government is doing all it can to fight the fires. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, in course of a visit to a particularly affected area in Sumatra, has pledged to “make every effort” to contain the disaster ~ in striking contrast to the remarkably insensitive response of President Bolsonaro.
The Indonesian blazes are an annual problem but this year’s are the worst since 2015, when they caused a serious environmental crisis.
The catastrophe has deepened concerns about wildfire outbreaks in other parts of the world, and the almost inevitable impact on global warming. Air quality has already deteriorated to “very unhealthy” levels on the government’s air pollutant index along the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, to the east of Sumatra, with the Kuala Lumpur skyline shrouded by dense smog.
Malaysia has closed more than 1,000 schools nationwide; the air quality has worsened in Singapore days before the city’s Formula One race, as toxic haze from Indonesian forest fires engulfed the region.
Race organisers have said the possibility of haze is one of the issues in their contingency plan for Sunday’s showpiece night race.
From Asia to the Amazon, the degradation of the environment has been considerable.
This year’s fires have been worsened by dry weather and experts believe there is little chance of them being extinguished until the onset of the rainy season in October. According to the Meteorology, Climate and Geophysics Agency, more than 1,000 hotspots had been sighted and most of them are in Sumatra.
These are areas of intense heat detected by satellite that indicate a likely fire. Air quality has reached dangerous levels in the worst-hit areas of Indonesia, prompting school closures and flight cancellations due to low visibility. The Amazon and a swathe of Asia symbolise the canker.
The environment is on fire.