June 29 Finding a way through the haze


If Indonesia's decision to launch cloud-seeding operations was a concrete attempt to reduce the haze, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's apology to neighbouring countries sought to repair the psychological damage done to relations by the trans-border ecological disaster.

The Indonesian leader deserves appreciation for his gesture, not least because several of his officials had chided Singapore earlier for complaining about the haze.

Such intemperate remarks, accompanied by shrill warnings not to interfere in Indonesia's domestic affairs, was astonishing coming from a rising South-east Asian power.

At one authoritative stroke, the Indonesian President set aside all that acrimony and cleared a diplomatic way through the haze that was clouding Indonesia's regional relations.

But much more needs to be done if the fight against the haze is to move in the right direction. The companies responsible for causing the forest fires that resulted in the haze have to be pursued with all the legal resources and administrative zeal at Indonesia's disposal.

Their nationality is irrelevant: The environmental damage that they have caused is the issue.

Indeed, acting against firms that have broken national laws would demonstrate the very sovereignty that some Indonesian officials have invoked jealously in fending off foreign criticism. Insisting on strict observance of the no-burn policy is Jakarta's best weapon against errant firms.

Indonesia should accept M'sian help
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: SwitchUp.tv, The Star, AFP, Reuters)
Air quality drops further in Malaysia
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: SwitchUp.tv, The Star, NASA)
Haze affects Malaysia
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: SwitchUp.tv, The Star)
Emergency declared in Malaysia as API surpasses 750
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: AFP, Reuters )

Given that it is early days yet in the haze season, it is nothing less than crucial that a clear signal be sent out to companies that their profits cannot take precedence over the environment.

Once these companies have been dealt with in Indonesia, foreign consumers could decide how to punish them in the marketplace by shunning products that use palm oil that is not produced by environmentally sound practices.

In the spirit of cooperation, Jakarta should also not look askance at offers of help to tackle the haze from countries in the region, or beyond.

Nor should it be averse to the issue being discussed at international forums. Collective action is a necessary weapon against environmental degradation.

Asean provides a useful platform for fighting against the regional problem of the haze.

And if the scope of negotiation and compromise at international forums is nevertheless constrained by domestic public opinion, non-governmental organisations should be given a role in formulating solutions on the ground.

They have no national agenda but possess the expertise to further sustainable farming. The haze demands collective - and sustained - action on many fronts. It should not be allowed to fade away from the political agenda when the winds change.