Just under 20,000 kilometres from the Amazon, an environmental emergency similar to the one that has hit Latin America is underway – but it seems to have no place in world public opinion. These are the many fires that have turned different areas of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia into hell. The situation is particularly serious in the latter country, where wildfires have affected Borneo and the island of Sumatra. Here six provinces even declared a state of emergency – the fires also destroyed Tesso Nilo National Park, a reserve that housed endangered animals such as wild elephants and Sumatran orangutans.
A few thousand kilometres away, Malaysia is also confronted with the plague of accidental fires, although the size of the fires is small compared to those in Indonesia, while the shining Singapore skyline is overshadowed by the cloud of haze caused by neighbouring fires.
Just like in Brazil, the main cause of the stake is man. In an attempt to make room for new oil palm plantations, many Asian farmers have set fires for purely economic purposes. The problem is that the situation soon got out of hand, causing yet another environmental catastrophe affecting the Earth. Indonesia’s nightmare is to go back to 2015, when daily emissions of carbon dioxide due to the fires even exceeded those produced by the economic activities of the United States.
Today, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, already accused of being responsible for the tragedy four years ago, is fighting against time to put a rag on the flames that are devastating his country. In 2019, from January to August, the fires incinerated almost 400,000 hectares of green areas, according to the National Disaster Agency, which has also indicated in the regions of Kalimantan, Riau, Jambi and Sumatra the most serious epicentres.
Double Standards: Amazon vs. Indonesia
The Meteorological Centre of the Associations of Southeast Asian Nations has recorded, since 14 September, 10 outbreaks in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawj and 627 in the Indonesian Kalimantan. In Indonesia, local farmers take advantage of the dry season from July to October to clean up their plantations using the “cut-and-burn” technique, an expedient to occupy new spaces and eliminate slices of forest by setting fires.
In addition to the main problem of fires, there is a dramatic increase in pollutants in the air, which in some countries have exceeded the levels of guard. And so while Jakarta has mobilized the army to put out the fires, Europe, from afar, launches generic warnings on how dangerous it is to witness similar catastrophes. Obviously, as there is no Bolsonaro or politician to be compared to the Brazilian leader, Indonesia has avoided threats and retaliation from the international community.