Riau province in the northern end of Indonesia has been a hotspot for plantations that produce paper, palm oil and rubber. Though it does wonders for the Indonesian economy, the region is notorious for illegal dumping of waste products from these industries and the fact that the “off-limits” forests are routinely set on fire to allow companies to set up camp there. This has led to some of the largest fires in Indonesian history in the past two decades. This year’s forest fires, however, have left neighbors like Singapore wary of the Indonesian government’s nonchalant attitude towards the problem.
Through June 2013, Singapore has been struggling to cope with the smog emerging from Indonesian forest fires that has enveloped the country. The pollution level has left the country covered in haze that is blocking out sunlight and exposing its population to an alarming level of airborne pollution. The country is so badly affected by the Indonesian forest fires that it has had to issue warnings and health advisories to its citizens telling them to stay indoors and only go out if really necessary.
The problem has become a common recurrence and the inconvenience is proving too much for Singapore to handle. Vivian Balakrishnan, the environment minister for Singapore, posted an angry statement on his Facebook page lashing out at Indonesia and telling them that no corporation or country has the right to pollute the air to this extent and put the lives of Singaporeans in jeopardy.
As rightful as that anger was, it appears that Indonesia couldn’t be bothered with how it was affecting the lives and health of people in its neighboring countries as Agung Laksono, the Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare in Indonesia, issued a response asking Singapore to “stop behaving like a child”. The minister even went so far as to state that Singapore and Malaysia were as much responsible for these fires as Indonesia as the resource extraction industry active in this region are inhabited by companies from Singapore and Malaysia as well.
Greenpeace, the international environmental advocacy group, claims that despite the international blame game, the Indonesian government had done little to effective reduce deforestation in the Sumatra region. Fires are used to clear land and the fact that these have become a common occurrence indicates that the government’s policies have failed to take effect. The region is known for being something a hotspot for palm oil production, mining and logging.