When I arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Friday 16th I found the city immersed in a beige, subtle but heavy fog. They call it “the haze”.
I have read and seen pictures about this phenomenon for weeks before coming. The haze that engulfs large parts of continental Malaysia is due to huge fires gone out of control in Sumatra and Kalimantan. These fires are part of the typical “slash and burn” strategy for clearing forested lands. The forest is cut, and the remains are set on fire to clear and fertilize the land. The cleared land is then used for oil palm plantations. The land surface used for oil palm has spiked since the nineties, and so has done the amount and size of the fires. In the dry season they easily run out of control, to the point that their smoke reaches across the sea all the way to continental Malaysia.
This period of the year, the end of the dry season, is now known as “the Haze season”. This year’s haze season is not the most acute, but it is one of the longest on record: it started a month ago and it still last. To try to reduce the consequences on health, the only solution available to most people is to wear masks. And wait for the rain season.
The issue of deforestation linked to oil palm plantation is not just about preserving nature, but also about human health. Malaysia and Singapore are currently putting strong political and legal pressure on Indonesia, that is the source of most of the haze smokes, for it to implement existing regulations against slash and burn agriculture. At the current rates, it is to see whether slash and burn practices will be over before or after all primeval forests are cut.