The haze over Southeast Asia from Indonesian forest fires is back and worse than ever


Thick smoke over Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia caused by Indonesian forest fires has prompted calls for the government to do more to control blazes.

This week Indonesian police arrested seven people involved in businesses that allegedly caused forest fires, according to Al Jazeera, but authorities are still refusing help from Singapore to actually put out the fires.

The haze has been a yearly occurrence for a long time, but has worsened over the last few years with the growth of the palm oil industry in Indonesia. Fires are often started to clear land for more plantations.

The palm oil industry’s expansion has been driven by global demand for common products like shampoo and chocolates. The industry has been criticized by environmentalists for allegedly clearing rainforest and other conservation areas, and endangering local wildlife, apart from the smog caused by forest fires. Greenpeace put out this video in 2010 specifically targeting Nestle for using palm oil in Kit Kats:

This time around, the Indonesian government says it will take them a month to control the fires, partly because of an extended dry season delaying the monsoons.

“We expect there will be a potential for haze because of the El Nino effect until the end of November, but we are targeting to put out the majority of the fires by mid-October,” government spokesperson Sutopo Nugroho said, according to The Malaysian Insider.

Regional leaders are expected to meet next week to try to come up with a plan to tackle the fires, Channel News Asia reports. Meanwhile the Singaporean and Malaysian governments “have responded furiously” to the blanket of smoke, the Guardian writes, with Singapore having passed a law recently which allows it to fine companies that cause smoke pollution, even if they’re not Singapore-based. That might be partly because of concerns that the pollution was going to interfere with the Singaporean F1, which kicks off this weekend. It’s going ahead despite the haze, but not without some health concerns, according to the BBC.

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