Indonesia : The Environmental Pariah


By: B. Goode

Indonesia is not only blessed with lush, verdant soil. She is also entrusted by Gaia to ensure that the forests and the animals within are well taken care of for the sake of humanity.

Alas that is not to be. Because the Indonesians, once famous as nature lovers whose lore is rich with `adat’ that stipulates the utmost respect for nature, have increasingly turned to greed and see their environment as something to be exploited and not protected.

But in some remote corners of the archipelago such as the island of Bali, you could still see this `adat’ at play. That is why Bali is still flushed with greenery whilst other parts of Indonesia burn.

The fires are getting worse because the greed is getting bigger.

It is getting so bad that the country is now contemplating declaring a national emergency. Even then, they are dilly-dallying.

As an aide to the vice president, Wijayanto Samirin said, elevating the crisis to national emergency status would allow the government to speed up procurement processes for much-needed foreign firefighting equipment.

“But there were concerns that businesses could use the government action to declare force majeure on deals in sectors ranging from palm oil to banking.”

So it is still about money.

And it has always been about money.

And the emergency declaration is nothing but a smokescreen to ask for money in the form of international aid.

If that happened, Singapore should not step in. Why should we? The money would only line the pockets of the corrupt Indonesian government officials. It would only help to further subsidise the palm oil industry. And most importantly, it would be seen as a reward for the burning of the land.

And the Indonesians will continue to burn the land knowing that they will not face any consequences save for a few hundred deaths. But what are a few hundreds to a corrupt government? Nothing.

And therein lies the cruel reality.  A land destined to be the lung of the earth falls into the hands of a corrupt guardian. There is nothing much that anyone can do. The only hope is a change from within.

Perhaps a few hundred deaths will not force a change. A few thousands maybe. Hundreds of thousands. Who knows?

But the bottom line is, when Indonesia burns, the world, and that includes Singapore, should not help. Let the country burn. And hopefully, this internal combustion will force a change in the way the country sees its environment.

Meanwhile, Singapore must adapt to the fires and the ensuing haze that will be an annual affair as it has been for almost 20 years. We have to start re-organising our lives to the` third’ season. Come each September , we start cleaning our air-purifier, stock up on masks and even go as far as changing the school holidays. Who said that the long school holidays must be in November – December? Why not change them to September-October?

There is no other way to handle the haze. A few sorties with 5000 litre water bucket will not do. Lip service will not do. Complaints will not do. Diplomatic notes will not do.

The only way to handle a corrupt government is to stop feeding it with cash.

So when the inevitable happens. When an emergency is declared. When international aid is sought, Singapore should just maintain a watching brief.

Do not feed the firestarters.

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