The Haze: Pain relief comes from rain

PEKANBARU, RIAU - They have only a vague idea of the pain and frustration they are causing to neighbouring countries like Singapore.

Yet year after year they continue clearing their plantations by setting the fields of peat ablaze. Even their fellow villagers are angry. And these villagers are in many ways more vocal than even Singaporeans.

They are outraged, villagers we encountered tell us. They can't breathe. They suffer from headaches and sore throats.

But they are also resigned to the haze becoming an annual event.

The conditions in Dumai and Rokan Hilir are far worse than anywhere else - in Indonesia or the region.

Visibility is near zero. The air is covered in acrid layers of smoke and speckled with ash. Domestic airports have been shut.

With the situation turning critical, isn't it time to stop the open burning methods once and for all?

Yes, they say, but...

Villages and farmers tell The New Paper that there is no other choice. Burning is far cheaper than hiring scores of workers to clear the land.

As one farmer tells me, the Indonesian government is quick to tell them to find more environmentally friendly options to clear the land.

But they are also slower in delivering to farmers more environmentally friendly alternatives.

And in the absence of such alternatives, is it any wonder why poor farmers will continue to resort to such practices?

"We are poor," said one farmer. "What else can we do?"

What he could have said was: "It's economics, stupid."

The sentiment from ground zero here is one of helplessness and resignation.

Will the cycle of burning ever end? The prognosis is bleak.

For this year, however, they've seen enough fire, enough pain; now, they only want to see some rain...