Updated: Mar 17, 2020
Singaporean Benjamin Tay and a team from the local non-profit organization he founded were among the volunteers who last weekend lent a hand to Indonesian firefighters battling the forest fires that have blanketed Southeast Asia with haze for weeks now.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, the 37-year-old described how he and his team from the People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM Haze) had struggled to quench a smoldering 20-square-meter plot in a peatland forest in Sumatra’s Riau province.
“I am feeling defeated … We hosed the smoldering peat with water, using various techniques, simulating rain and hosing the water straight into the cinders,” Tay wrote in the post on Saturday.
“When we stopped, the entire area looked almost exactly the same as when we first started, the land still smoldering… Yes, it is true! Peat fires are almost impossible to put out,” he added.
Tay and his team had attended a community event in the nearby village of Sungai Tohor, before traveling to Tanjung Sari village, then trekking 2 kilometers to the peatland forest to give a respite to other volunteers who have been living and working at the site.
“We brought water and some snacks for the field team who has been living in makeshift shelters at the edge of the peat forest,” Tay said.
Tay and his team, however, couldn’t stay for very long as they needed to travel back to Sungai Tohor, about an hour’s ride away, before it got dark, he said. PM Haze collaborated with Indonesian NGO Ekonomi Kreatif Andalan to provide firefighting assistance.
Fires across forests in Kalimantan on Borneo, as well as Riau and Jambi on Sumatra, are the main causes of the ongoing haze, with the governor of Riau province already declaring an emergency in the area, as the Air Pollution Index has nudged beyond 500, a measurement based on the concentration of six different pollutants in the air, several media outlets reported today.
For perspective, the 145 registered by Singapore last Thursday is considered “unhealthy.”
Indonesian authorities have reportedly arrested hundreds of people for their suspected involvement in the illegal fires; sealed off plantations operated by more than 40 companies; and identified at least four major palm oil companies allegedly linked to them. They include Malaysian groups Sime Darby, IOI Corporation, Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad, TDM Berhad, and Singapore-based group Sampoerna Agri Resources.
This is why it is important that consumers support products that are certified palm oil sustainable — or have been approved by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Tay noted in his Facebook post. RSPO palm oil comes from plantations that strictly adhere to a no-burning policy, while the people behind the certified products are also required to manage their plantations sustainably.
Other than supporting the RSPO, Tay’s NGO also runs a peatland restoration program that helps to “retain a good number of flora and fauna species,” by planting plants on peatlands that have been burned.
Given how bad the haze has been here lately (and how ready we are to complain about it), it’s good to know there are Singaporeans taking action on the environment, and we can’t help but feel a bit proud of the work they’re doing.
If reading this has got you feeling inspired, there are a variety of ways you can help out PM Haze, including your time, skills and money.