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Indonesia forest fire is choking South East Asia


The haze from the forest fire in Kalimantan is affecting everybody. Many of my friends are starting to have difficulty in breathing and a few are already coughing. Below is a photo of Penang Bridge. 

My friend, a retired Professor of English, Dr Frank Chin told me that his daughter who is pregnant and living in Kuching which is nearer to the source of the haze is suffering badly from the haze. He is afraid that his grand child might be deformed. So, he wanted me to write about the bad effect of the haze so that the Indonesian Government can stop the tree burning. I told him that he is more qualified to write. But he said that if I wrote, more readers would be interested to read it because of my popularity.

Since the haze is affecting so many people, I agree to write about it. But I cannot just write about the bad effect of the forest fire without pointing out the necessity of clearing the forest for oil palm plantation.  Nevertheless they should not burn the timber as there are better ways to use the timber, for example the wood can be used for the manufacture of chip boards and furniture etc. The leaves should be left to rot which will eventually enrich the soil.

The above photo was taken in Central Kalimantan on 18th September. Toxic haze from Kalimantan forest fires is polluting the atmosphere in South East Asia and thousands of schools across the country and in neighbouring Malaysia are closed. 

Forest fires are blazing on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, with Jakarta deploying thousands of security forces and water-bombing aircraft to tackle them.

The Indonesian blazes are an annual problem, but this year’s are the worst since 2015. About 200,000 people affected by the haze are being treated in Indonesia hospitals.

Recently I read the long article about the ill effect from inhaling haze by Dr Ong Kian Chung, Respiratory Physician,Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore.

Let me just extract the most important part of his long article.  

How long can a healthy person tolerate the haze without harm? Every individual is different in size, age and health so it is not possible to say how long a person can tolerate the haze. When the haze level is in the unhealthy range (PSI higher than 100), it is prudent for everyone to avoid outdoor activities.

Can the haze do long-term harm to our health?

Usually the harmful effects of a few minutes of haze exposure are temporary and do not lead to long-term health issues.

However, in studies performed in the US and Europe, there was found to be a definite relationship between air pollution and cardiovascular and lung cancer death. The smaller PM2.5 were particularly deadly, with 36% increase in lung cancer rate for every increase of 10 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre.

Clearly then clean air, just like good health, is invaluable. I think that it’s best to avoid air pollution especially when the PSI is very unhealthy. In short, there is no ‘safe’ level of air pollution. The lower the better for your long-term health.

The necessity of forest clearing

Although the haze is bad for health, the cutting and burning of trees for oil palm plantation will benefit the Indonesian workers, its economy and the plantation companies. As far as I know, many of the plantation companies belonged to Malaysian investors. Again as far as I know, almost all palm oil plantation companies are increasing their plantation acreage, in spite of the fact that palm oil price has been falling from Rm 4,000 to the current level of around Rm 2,000 per ton. Unless they stop cutting down forest for planting more oil palms, they are actually killing themselves. It is a question of supply and demand.

Malaysia was the biggest palm oil producer in the world for a long time and now most of the larger plantation companies are clearing the Kalimantan forest for planting oil palm . Currently Indonesia is the champion producer of palm oil.   

Rich nations choose to forget history        

All the rich nations especially the Europeans are criticizing the poor nations for cutting down their forest to plant oil palms. They choose to forget that their forefathers had cut down all the forest for economic development long ago. Now they have the audacity to criticize the under developed countries for cutting their forest for economic development. That is why they are campaigning against palm oil. They are saying palm oil is not good for health. Their rape seed and olive oil are superior but they are dearer than palm oil.

Palm oil facts:

  1. Palm oil trees can grow up to 20 metres tall with an average life of 25 years.
  2. Palm oil grows across or 10 degrees north / south of the equator.
  3. The tree starts to bear fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) after three years.
  4. The oil palm tree is also know as Elaeis Guineensis.
  5. Each individual piece of fruit on fruit bunch contains 50% oil.The nut, referred to as a kernel, at the centre of each piece of fruit, is where palm kernel oil is extracted from.
  6. Palm oil can be harvested 12 months of the year.
  7. Each tree can produce 10 tonnes of fresh fruit bunches per hectare.
  8. On average 3.9 tonnes of crude palm oil and 0.5 tonnes of palm kernel oil can be extracted per hectare.
  9. Leftover fibre from the palm kernel mill process provides a product called palm kernel expeller. This is used in animal feed, but can also be used to make products like paper or fertilizer.
  10. Palm oil requires 10 times less land than other oil-producing crops.

Based on the above facts, it is much more profitable to grow oil palm than growing rape seeds and olive. 

Fortunately China is the biggest palm oil buyer.    

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