From: email@example.com (Chris King)
The fires in South-East Asia are a world disaster caused by indifference to pollution, powerful multinationals, lack of law enforcement, and official corruption. Fuelling it is unfathomable greed.
The causes of the pollution disaster in South-east Asia are many but the biggest is greed. Human greed. For years giant logging companies have plundered the forests of Indonesia with impunity, swellng their profits and moving on. Greed. In their wake came plantation owners and farmers who wanted to clear the brush to grow lucrative palm oil and other crops. They could have bulldozed or burned the debris. They chose to burn, because it was cheaper and faster. Greed. But without the logging companies, who had chopped down the big trees and built the roads, they could never have done it. "The timber industry must take a huge share of the blame," said Simon Counsell of the London-based Rainforest Foundation.
But without the logging companies, who had chopped down the big trees and built the roads, they could never have done it. "The timber industry must take a huge share of the blame," said Simon Counsell of the London-based Rainforest Foundation. The consequences are like something from a futuristic disaster: hundreds of people reported killed as the fires spread uncontrollably from Bomeo and Sumatra, throwing a deadly blanket of smog over 70 million people in six countries: Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Thailand.
Satellite pictures show the fires have spread to one million hectares of deep peatlands where they may burn underground for years. The world faces a human and environmental catastrophe that will have a devastating effect on public health and change global climate more than the Mt St Helen's eruption in 1980 or Saddam Hussein's torching of the Kuwaiti oil fields in 1991. Some experts say the pollution could bring storms to Europe and the United States this winter. The Indonesian Government also stands accused of greed: granting concessions to timber companies to log one million hectares of forest a year, flouting its own rules on replanting. Allowing plantation owners and farmers to burn forests in breach of its own laws. All this on top of a lax attitude to air quality that even before the fires, had left residents of cities such as Kuala Lumpur exposed to harmful fumes. It seems incredible that this ecological nightmare could start in Indonesia where the rain forests are said to be richer than those in the Amazon. But the Indonesian Government has a lot to, gain from big logging companies enough to make them deaf to the pleas of environmental groups. Yet the disaster would not have happened were it not for another crucial factor. El Nino, the Weather phenomenon that has brought September rains to California and caused south-east Asia's worst drought in 50 years, delaying the rains that would douse the flames. Crucially, climatologists say, El Nino is occurring more often because of global warming. This can also be blamed on greed: of industries burning fossil fuels; of car-worshippers pumping out exhaust fumes; of Governments refusing io cut emissions. And the circle is complete - of logging firms whose rape of forests is reducing the Earth's ability to absorb carbon dioxide. There are many victims of this greed, most obviously the region's inhabitants who are suffering the effects of smog - a word that does no justice to the murderous filth filling lungs from Sarawak to Sumatra with carcinogen-carrying particulates, condemning thousands of people to asthma, bronchitis, lung diseases, and, in the long-term, cancer and early death. The inhabitants include indigenous tribes who have lived -in Indonesia's forests for thousands of years, using small-scale slash-and-burn, have been forced out of their homes by logging companies. Now they are being poisoned as well.
Environmental groups have been arguing for years that timber firms cannot be given carte-blanche to raze the world's forests. But there is no global policeman to stop their orgy of destruction. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero, Governments promised to do more. The Rio Plus Five summit in New York this year noted little change and promised improvements. But, despite intensive lobbying, the United Nations has failed to deliver a Global Forest Agreement that would introduce enforceable intemational standards. Instead things have got worse.
A report last year by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, said the industry was "running out of control", fuelled by greed, corruption and the world's insatiable demands for timber and paper. It named the 17 worst offenders, including Mitsubishi and America's Georgia Pacific. Daishowa of Japan and Musa of Indonesia were accused of corruption, and six firms, including Hyundai of South Korea and Malaysia's Samling, of illegal practices.
Logging companies were using their power to undermine national forestry bodies, especially in poor countries, the agency said. Many cleared entire forests and moved on. Others replaced them, witheucalpytus. "Few industries can rival the short-termism of the timber trade," said Steve Trent, the agency's head of campaigns. The fires sweeping across parts of south-east Asia have also had less predictable consequences. The smog has apparently caused the collision of two cargo ships and may be to blame for the deaths of 234 people on an Indonesian Airbus that crashed just before landing in Sumatra though many remain unconvinced. There are fears for the region's Asian Tiger economies whose rapid growth had been jeqpardised by recent currency falls and economic slowdown. Analysts say the disaster will further erode confidence and hit industries including tourism, palm oil and the electronics sector. Psychologists expect a rise in the number of people suffering from depression. "Not seeing the sun and worrying about their health will have a horrendous psychological effect on vulnerable people," said London-based psychoanalyst Dr Paul Willams. The fires in South-east Asia are a disaster for the whole world and an inevitable consequence of its twisted values: indifference to pollution, powerful multinationals, lack of law enforcement, official corruption. And, fuelling it all, an inexhaustible, unfathomable greed.