One of the biggest natural disasters this year started 6 months ago, and I doubt you know about it if you’re not from Asia. Because besides the fact that it affected several countries in South East Asia, the major media outlets haven’t bothered to even headline it.
“Not even kinda?”, you ask?
Yep, not even kinda.
Between July and October this has been going on, and the country I live in was suffocating in a thick smoke that traveled across the sea from Indonesia for 2 months of it. A haze, repugnant in look and smell, and in an absolutely god-awful taste rolled into Penang, Malaysia while I was away. I heard about it while I was gone, but nothing that was startling. Nothing about how devastating it really is. So after a month of travel, I came back to what I thought was a normal Penang. Almost exactly how I left it. And for the most part it looked so. I didn’t know the winds had shifted, sending it another direction. A few days after returning we were getting back into our routine. I was starting my school year. Everything seemed to be back to normal.
But then it began.
It’s a yearly event, something that was mentioned in passing by fellow expats who have experienced it for decades. But no one could expect that this would be the worst year since it started over 2 decades ago.The white smoke snuck in from below and above. It blocked out the sun, and covered the mainland before weaving its way along the bay outside my apartment, slowly covering everything in sight 3,000 meters away. Then 2,000ms. 1,000ms. Suddenly our gorgeus view was replaced by a smog so thick I could cut it with a knife.
But by then the view was the least of our problems.
Our view a year ago.
Our view in early October
Once it began to seep into our apartment we had to have our doors and windows closed at all times. We soon became the air-conditioning addicts we made fun of before, and avoided going outside completely. On Facebook, I could see people who had jobs outdoors wearing gas-masks. Schools were closed across Malaysia, and every outdoor acivity was cancelled without mention.
Everyone knew that the haze had officialy closed down a country.
So cooped up in our apartment, avoiding the outside world by ordering groceries online and calling for take-out, we looked up what this haze really was.
And this turned up.
Our country-neighbor Indonesia, one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been, is also one of the leading exporters of Palm Oil. Palm Oil is in 50% of the products you use, in case you didn’t know. And with fields across the nation, companies big and small manufacture and sell it internationally. But after a busy year, the fields that had once hosted their products barren, and are completely useless to them. The crops, after use, tarnish the field to an almost, un-reusable extent. They need to start again, and need fresh space to plant new trees. But how can they do this?
Well, it’s simple. Burn the soil, and replant, and while you’re at it expand a little.
Quick and easy, right?
“Today, rainforest area the equivalent of 300 soccer fields is being destroyed every hour.”
This year it started in June, and winds from El Nino (The big bad storm) pushed the smoke to Singapore, Malaysia, and even up to Thailand. Since the fires started aren’t properly contained AT ALL (Smaller businesses even claim not to start them), the fire doesn’t just stop in the counterfeit fields. It spreads into one of the most magnificent and beautiful jungles in the world, home to the ever-dwindling orangutans, monkeys, rhinos and tigers.
And to countless Indonesians.
And while most years these fires are put out relatively soon, this year the right winds and a very dry rainy-season provided the perfect opportunity for the fires to manifest. Unstoppable, they eat away the jungle into ash as they suffocate Indonesian children, women, and men. With over 500,000 documented respritatory tract infections this year, there is an expected 100,000 premature deaths for next year caused by the smoke.
And while Malaysians complained about the haze, looking at the official Haze Index, the highest the smoke reached was in the late 200’s. That was where schools closed. The highest it is in the U.S.A at the moment is 107 at a town in California (Who knows whats going on over there). But you know what the index was in Indonesia? A place where a large percentage of the population can only afford curtains for doors, much less air-conditioning? Where fires rage uncontrollably over 5,000km of their land?
Over THREE THOUSAND.
“These fires are a threat to the health of millions. Smoke from landscape fires kills an estimated 110,000 people every year across Southeast Asia, mostly as a result of heart and lung problems, and weakening newborn babies.” ~ An excerpt from news.mongabay.com
While the flames have finally died last month, Indonesia is slowly recuperating from the devastation left. “Slash and burn needs to be put to a stop…” says, The Guardian, who also says that small buisnesses and the government are apart of the problem. The small buisnesses really can’t be held accountable until the government strengthens the laws on the fires killing their country.
But right now Indonesia needs everyone’s help. The corrupt government isn’t helping its citizens, calling the complaining affected countries (Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand), sensitive, and saying that it has done enough for its people by telling them to “stay indoors”. But when indoors isn’t even possible for most, what can the people do? And while the endangered Orangutans are slowly being rescued from the flames, it is more clear than ever that it just isn’t enough.
So how can we help?
We can help by spreading the word of the devastation. And we can help by donating to help kids and mothers and the Orangutans in Indonesia. If you didn’t know this was happening, your friends probably don’t either. So please spread the word by person and online.
Don’t let ignorance kill lives.
BE A SINCERE AND SUBSCRIBE TO TRAVEL WITH ME
A brief about me <—– Who even am I? (Existential crisis ensues)