Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific (FoE Asia Pacific) is concerned that the ecocide caused by forest fires in Indonesia is also causing the haze in the South East Asian region, predominantly in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines. The haze is impacting air quality across the region, threatening the health of local communities and in some areas forcing people to remain indoors.

Despite the haze becoming an annual phenomenon, national governments in the region have yet to take significant action to stop its debilitating presence. Monitoring data from the ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Centre (ASMC) have shown that the majority of hotspots are seen in Kalimantan and Sumatra. 

Meena Raman, chairperson of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth Malaysia) said that “the recurrence of the haze problem raises serious concerns about the effectiveness of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (ATBHP) which came into effect in 2014 and over the implementation of the ‘Roadmap on ASEAN Cooperation towards Transboundary Haze Pollution Control’. The ASEAN’s vision of a haze-free region by 2020 now seems like an impossible task.” 

The ASEAN Agreement promotes cooperation among the ASEAN member states and expects each country to undertake efforts to prevent forest fires in their respective countries, without infringing on the national sovereignty of a member state. Past studies have stated that the ASEAN ATBHP lacks enforcement mechanisms, including dispute-resolution processes. These weaknesses make the effectiveness of the ATBHP questionable. 

The forests in Malaysia and Indonesia are the lungs to our region. There must be regional recognition that large corporate oil palm, pulp and paper plantations are causing not only deforestation but are also responsible for the forest fires in Indonesia. 

Yuyun Harmono, climate justice campaign manager of WALHI: Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), states that large oil palm and pulp corporations are responsible for the forest fires and not the small farmers. “First, there must be a clear understanding about the systemic causes of forest fires and the corporate activities which are largely responsible for them. Effective action must be taken to stop these unsustainable forestry and plantation activities, including in preventing the use of fire in land clearing activities. Rule of law must be enforced against this corporate crime” he added.  

At the recent COP 14, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) highlighted the need for urgent action to stop the destruction of forest ecosystems. Hemantha Withanage, steering group member of Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific’s Forests and Biodiversity programme states that “uncontrolled forest destruction in the two countries is an ecocide and has severe impacts on climate change”. 

Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific demands that ASEAN urgently addresses the transboundary haze pollution by first recognising the systemic causes behind the forest fires and the role that corporations play in largely causing them. We highlight the need to work alongside local communities to reduce the health impacts caused by the haze. Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific finally demands that this ecocide must stop now! 

For further information, please contact:

Yuyun Harmono
Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI)

Meenakshi Raman
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)

Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ)

Friends of the Earth (FoE) Asia Pacific is a collective of Asian and Oceanic FoE member groups. We are a regional structure of Friends of the Earth International, a federation of environmental organizations. There are currently 75 countries uniting over 2.2 million members and supporters. FoE Asia Pacific works closely with grassroots communities and indigenous peoples to amplify the voices of those on the frontlines, to promote environmental and social justice.