A terrible disaster that calls humanity for unity and action

Published on 30-10-2015

Photo credit Bjorn Vaughn

Have you heard about the haze crisis in Indonesia? Or perhaps you haven’t, since until the last few days there seems to be no proper media coverage on what is now proving to be one of the worst environmental disasters of the 21st century. Many are calling it a crime against humanity and this should be front page news!

The most ancient rain forests on this planet are ablaze with thousands of fires. The islands of Borneo and Sumatra are hit the hardest and almost 100% of these fires have been deliberately started by men. 

Borneo and Sumatra are the homes of last remaining populations of the great apes, the Orangutans, but these islands are also the home of some of the largest plantations in the world and setting the peatland on fire for the production of pulp, paper and palm oil is a practice that goes back more than 20 years. Each year this causes a big problem with the haze that the fires generate, except this year is like no other. Until recently, the fires were mostly confined to farmland, plantations, and areas of scrub and grassland. This is no longer the case. Peatland drainage and forest clearance, coupled with a severe drought caused by a strong El Niño weather system, have allowed peatland fires to take hold easily and accelerate rapidly, burning deep into some of the planet’s most important rain forests. 

Photo credit Bjorn Vaughn

The peatland ecosystem is one of the most efficient carbon depositories on our planet, when the peat burns, the carbon gets turned into CO2 which gets released into the atmosphere. Indonesia has now, in the last few months, released the same amount of CO2 into the atmosphere as the UK or Germany do in one year. This is a lot of greenhouse gasses in a very short time. The thick haze that now covers these islands does not just include particulate matter (PM10), but also carbon monoxide (this is what people use to commit suicide). The toxicity of the air in Palangka Raya (the capital city of Central Kalimantan) reached pollution level 3,900 ppm the other day. To give you an idea of the severity of this situation, normal levels of pollution are considered 0-50 ppm, pollution mark 300 ppm is hazardous. 3,900 ppm is something that we have never witnessed before. The haze has also made it’s way to Singapore and Malaysia, causing schools to close and the governments to make official complaints to Indonesia. 

Though there has been some slight relief due to rainfall a few days ago, in Borneo still today more than 40 million people (and the remaining Orangutan population) are inhaling the toxic haze, with every breath they take. More than half a million people have taken sick with acute respiratory infection, many have died already, mostly babies and children. The Indonesian government tries to do their best in this crisis, to fight these fires is costing the government $50 million per week. The firemen are under-equipped, under-staffed and don’t have proper protective gear. Many people fighting the fires are local volunteers who risk their lives by being right in the heart of the haze without any masks, with their bare hands.

Photo credit Bjorn Vaughn

The government is also not providing the people with proper N95 masks, instead they hand out surgical masks which sadly do almost nothing in such high levels of toxicity. People cannot afford to buy the proper masks on their own and more often than not these are not available in the city of Palangkaraya and the surrounding villages. There is some talk of evacuating the people and navy ships have already arrived, however, we are talking about millions of people here and one boat can carry 2,000 only. 

Though it may seem as if it is just the people in Indonesia, somewhere on the far side of the planet, that suffer from this disaster, through their deteriorating health, through loss of homes and forests, huge financial repercussions on the government and agriculture, in truth all of us around the world will need to deal with the consequences of this “crime against humanity”, and I would add, a crime against Mother Nature. The effect on the weather systems will accelerate climate change, the loss of large chunks of the most ancient rainforest remaining on earth and sadly, what seems to become more probable by the day, the extinction of the “man of the forest”, the Orang-Utan, one of the last remaining of the great apes. 


It is time for us to act as citizens of the world and forget that there exist these imaginary borders of countries and nations. We are all One, brothers and sisters, and we need to get together and do our part to help stop the burning and send relief to the people and animals in these areas. 

We have been keeping in touch with OuTrop (Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project), who are there on the ground, trying to save the orangutans and put out the fires closing in on their research camp. They urgently need financial aid to keep fighting the fires and getting the animals to safety. Or shall we say somewhere safer as the reach of the haze is enormous. They say: "The only way to tackle this disaster is with huge manpower on the ground, supported by intensive and sustained aerial water-bombing, but for this we need help from outside of Indonesia." 

Please help by donating here: https://mydonate.bt.com/events/forestfires

We are also working closely with a group of people led by David Metcalf who has set up a crowd funding site through which we have been able to send out masks and medical supplies for the people. We are working with Earth Hour who are there on the ground distributing the supplies that we are able to send out. 

Please help us keep sending help by donating here: https://www.gofundme.com/kalimantansmoke