I had my N95 mask at the ready, which my Australian trained occupational health and safety expert of a husband had insisted on but I had doubted that I would need it. We were in Singapore for the Formula One Grand Prix and the haze from Indonesia's forest fires created debate about the safety and viability of the race.
I hadn't anticipated that the air would be difficult to breathe, surely I had been in Singapore before when the smoke from the perennial Indonesian burn had drifted over the home of the merlion with little problem, but there did come a time on the Saturday night that the air was indeed difficult to breathe at a PSI (Pollutant Standard Index) reading of around 200. My thoughts turned to the people of Indonesia where the proximity to this smoke was much greater and surely mere day-to-day existence within this thick blanket of haze would be encompassing.
As the papers ran many a discussion about who was to blame, illegal operations by companies outside their concessions, where the fires had started, corruption (add to that the 'revolving door' of Australian politics - completely off topic but we do look like a bit of a lark), some Singaporean academics argued that the only way to mitigate the haze problem was to link policy with, and educate Indonesians of the associated health problems. They argued that the middle-man Indonesian farmer challenged by poverty and in a developing world was unlikely to stop the practice of clearing land by burning as they lack an attractive alternative and education about the long-term impacts to both neighbours and their fellow countrymen.
Their argument that Indonesia is unaware of the health impacts of the haze because there is no published study that estimates the health costs holds little credibility, for surely one does not need a scientific study to know that when there is haze your mother or child becomes sick, or the people in your village dare only to go outside for necessities and then only (if you have one) wearing a mask. States of emergency have been declared in at least two provinces in Indonesia including Central Kalimantan where residents recently took to the streets of Pangkalan Raya to protest government inaction on a day when the PSI reading hit 1,400 - (seven times what I experienced in Singapore) "...people are suffering from respiratory illnesses. We want disaster management teams to be prepared... to safeguard people's health," urged one of the protesters.
In Riau province it has been reported that close to 26,000 people have become ill because of the haze, some developing pneumonia from secondary infection, asthma, and eye and skin irritation. Health posts have been set up in the area each manned by a doctor and two nurses providing first aid to those affected by the haze, masks and advice on how to best manage the circumstances.
As Indonesia grapples with how to extinguish the fires and look after the health of its citizens with peat that can sometimes smoulder for months, the drier weather conditions brought on by this year's El Nino only threaten to prolong the haze and make it easier for new hot spots to ignite. The expected length of this year's El Nino hasn't bypassed the markets either with palm oil futures on the rise. Visibility and dangerous working conditions for workers reduce the harvest as does the reduction in yield of fruit (and consequently oil) from reduced photosynthesis and pollination by insects.
Palm oil is arguably one of Indonesia's 'economic pillars' and whilst efforts are being made to counter the negative impacts of the haze (also from pulp and paper plantations), palm oil production cannot simply be abandoned overnight, it's very much a 'Catch 22' situation. I wonder if at all the world at large would be discussing it if it wasn't causing such an inconvenience to its neighbours.
With thoughts of the Indonesian people heavy in my heart and haze aside, I was happy to finish out watching the race with Sebastian Vettel to take the win at the Singapore Grand Prix and Perth's own Daniel Riccardo coming in for second.... breathing easy is not something to be taken for granted.
A reminder that Indonesian Law Expert and Chairman of the Australia-Indonesia Institute Professor Tim Lindsey will be in Perth for a one-off breakfast talk and Q and A session on Tuesday 13th of October, for more information click here and spread the word to anyone you think might be interested. Great opportunity not to be missed! (Indonesia Institute members, you will have a discount code in your inbox).
Please enjoy this edition of the blog, with a range of readings, articles and items of interest in the Aus-Indo arena.
Sampai kali depan,
SBYs Perth Visit
WA to Benefit from Indonesian Middle Class, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says by Kathryn Diss via The ABC. Discussion from SBY's public lecture in Perth (September 2015).
'Maju' The Cry of the Student Soldiers by Duncan Graham via The Jakarta Post. Duncan discusses Suhario Padmodiwiryo's book Revolution in the City of Heroes: A Memoir of the Battle that Sparked Indonesia's National Revolution translated by historian and journalist Frank Palmos.
History and Theatre - Black Armada Exhibition Opens in Indonesia by Dr Stephen Gapps via Australian National Maritime Museum (September 2015).
Australian Designers Launch Muslim Collections in Indonesia via Temp.co (September 2015).
Inside Indonesia has collaborated with the National Library of Australia to make their archive copies from 1983 - 2007 of the magazine available digitally. The editions are available as an e-book and searchable by keyword. Fantastic effort to make this available.
In the News and Opinion
PM Could Loosen Strained Ties by Ross Taylor via The West Australian (September 2015).
Jokowi's Risky Anti-Foreign Rhetoric by Dr Robertus Robet via Indonesia at Melbourne (September 2015).
Indonesia-Australia security cooperation: defining common interests by Bob Lowry via The Strategist (September 2015).
Indonesia Declares Emergency as Sumatra Fires Spread Haze over Singapore and Malaysia by Samantha Hawley via The World Today (ABC).
Indonesia Again Backflips on Promise to Scrap Visa Fees for Australian Travellers to Bali by Robyn Ironside via news.com.au citing Indonesia Institute Inc President Ross Taylor (September 2015).
Indonesia at Risk from Huge Fires because of El Nino by Allan Spessa and Robert Field via The Conversation (June 2015).
Development Assistance in Indonesia - Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website giving an overview of programs and funds to Indonesia. A great place to start if you are interested in some of the Australian Government's Aus-Indo initiatives.