Indonesia has struggled to contain its forest fires, especially on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. Some progress has been made but there’s still a long way to go. It’s getting to the point where forest fires are hurting Indonesia business and the region’s economy.

For as long as the new generation can remember, some Southeast Asian countries have been affected by recurring haze each year. These places include Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore, among others.

This seasonal phenomenon has been around for many years. But 2015 seems to be the worst so far.


What’s to Blame For Indonesia Forest Fires?

At the root of the problem is the slash and burn farming technique, the traditional method of restoring fertility to the lands after a harvest which involves the burning of vegetation. The affected area is mostly made up of peat soil which is highly flammable. This leads to fires spreading to areas wider than just the intended farmland. They become uncontrolled forest fires.

Burnt peat releases hefty amount of carbon particles into the air due to the substance’s high density and carbon content.

Who’s responsible for these forest fires? It’s still open to speculation with all parties pointing their fingers at everyone else. Small time farmers blame the big businesses. The government is also taking fire for not playing a bigger role in preventing them.

According to the environmental group WWF Indonesia, all parties are to blame. Conducting extensive research into the forest fire problems over many years, the group has come to the conclusion that the forest fires are caused by “collective negligence” of corporations, local farmers, and the government.

Another factor responsible for exacerbating the situation is the El Niño phenomenon. This has caused drier conditions throughout ASEAN, further accelerated by rate which forest fires are spreading.


Indonesia Business, Citizens, and Environment All Affected

These causes have started a chain of events which have brought serious consequences. This doesn’t just affect Indonesia, but also the rest of ASEAN in terms of its economy, people, and ecology.

Damage is most obviously seen in how the landscape of Indonesia changes every year. Entire forests disappear along with its inhabitants. The nation’s forests represent some of the most diverse habitats in the world.

Another species affected by forest fires are Homo sapiens ourselves. Haze has already claimed 19 lives this year with over 500,000 recorded cases of respiratory tract infections. In Asia alone, worsening atmospheric conditions are expected to bring about over 100,000 premature deaths.

Economic damage from the fires is also severe. Estimates by the Indonesia government put the number at US$47 billion, rising with each day. This is indeed a massive blow to the country’s economy. A large proportion of the loss comes from the reduction in agricultural productivity, a direct result of the forest fires.

With such negative impacts both to Indonesia and its neighbors, the government decided to step up its efforts to control the damage. They’re also holding firms which have caused the fires accountable. In September, Indonesian authorities arrested seven executives.

They’re also trying to reduce the practice of slash and burn farming. By understanding the reasons why farmers resort to this type of practice, the government is now putting efforts into dissuading the practice by offering training and incentives to use safer methods.

Increased action stems from the fact that in September of last year, Indonesia ratified the ASEAN agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. This will leave the country vulnerable to legal action should it not increase its efforts to stop this yearly occurrence.

Experts on the topic expect to see effects from the government’s actions and are watching closely.

About Reid Kirchenbauer

Reid Kirchenbauer is the Founder of InvestAsian. He's experienced with trading stocks and buying property in Thailand, Cambodia, and elsewhere. He's been featured in publications such as Forbes, Nomad Capitalist, Property Report, and Seeking Alpha. Download his free investment guide by clicking here.

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