unsaved by the rain


It has been almost three months now most areas in Sumatera and half part of Kalimantan are blanketed by smoke and haze resulted from the burning of lands, especially on the peatlands.

The impacts are enormous. According to the National Disaster Response Agency (BNPB) 40 million people are exposed to the smoke and haze, and more than 400 thousand people are suffered from the acute respiratory infection (ISPA) according to the Ministry of Health. Hundreds of flights have been canceled, thousands of students can not enjoy proper education. The economic loss is predicted to reach 20 trillion rupiahs (approximately USD 2 billion).

For eighteen years now Indonesians have experienced smoke and haze that disrupt their daily lives and affect their livelihoods. And for those years lessons have not been learnt. Moral hazards and bad practices of natural resources extraction persist and unpunished, deep-rooting like cancer that eats up the body piece by piece.

For eighteen years the fires, smoke and haze have been treated as a given situation, and tackled in a responsive mode. If we are honest, none of those responsive mode of action could actually put off the fires in peatlands completely. All these years it has been ‘the hands of God’ that put off the fires once and for all –in the form of rains; heavy heavy rains. And we human forget easily. The bad practices are repeated year after year. And every time we have been ‘lucky’: we have been saved by nature. Nature actually teaches us, but we are too stupid and ignorant to learn. We forget that we can not push our luck.

And this year the most waited rain –heavy heavy rains, has not come yet. Parts of government and corporations –whose concession areas are located on the peatlands, are starting to put the blame on El Nino. Plantation concession holders said that they don’t burn their lands, and that it is burnt automatically because of the hot temperature, and that it is difficult to put off the fires in the peatlands. Yes it is indeed difficult to put off the fire once it happens on the now-naked-and-dried peatland forest! That is why the peatland forest –a wetland in its natural undisturbed condition, must not be clearcut at all in the first place!

Now it seems like nature teaches us harder. But greeds and moral hazards can not be dimmed easily. And unfortunately, the costs of the hard lesson from nature must be borne mostly by the parties that even have nothing to do with those behaviors –like children. Five children from different provinces have died –suffocated and failed to breathe, triggered by the smoke-haze exposures.

For eighteen years the state have done little, and even giving impunities to the perpetrators of the felony. For eighteen years the most fundamental rights of the citizen –human beings, to breathe in good and healthy air has been violated. For eighteen years the state has subsidized corporations –through policies and peoples money, to maintain their moral hazards.

Five casualties and millions of sufferers; Is it not enough? How many more lives it needs to open the eyes that have been blinded by the mantra of profit maximization? How many more lives it needs to make the ears that have been plugged by the whispers of economic growth myth really listen?


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