SAM and WALHI working together to address the issue of Forest Fires and Transboundary Haze

Dec 24, 2019

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI) have spent 2019 collaborating on a joint research project. The research gathered will contribute to a publication on the Indonesian forest and plantation fires, and the resulting transboundary haze. The annual forest and plantation fires, and the haze that affect Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and to some extent Philippines, have caused health problems and economic losses.

In November 2019, SAM and WALHI attended the Sustainable Finance and Palm Oil Workshop organised by TUK Indonesia. SAM presented parts of the findings from its research activities during a session specially dedicated to discussing the fires and transboundary haze. The session focused on the differences between the governance, policy and legal frameworks in Malaysia and in Indonesia.

The following were the two most common myths that the publication sought to discredit:

(a) The misinformation campaign that blames local smallholders and communities, instead of plantation corporations, as the primary perpetrators of the crisis; and

(b) The narrative that isolates and frees the crisis from the larger chain of corporate human rights and environmental violations. 

In additional to the research activities carried out by SAM, the organisation also successfully secured a meeting with Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian parliament. Santiago is also the chair of the Association of South East Asian Network (ASEAN) Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). The meeting resulted in an agreement to advance an ASEAN, CSO and parliamentarian partnership. This required SAM, WALHI and other Malaysian and Indonesian CSOs to begin working together on the issue in a more coherent manner, alongside current and former ASEAN parliamentarians. The long-term goal is for this partnership to explore the possibility of advancing a stronger ASEAN mechanism on forest and plantations fires and transboundary haze. 

SAM also organised a CSO meeting in Kuala Lumpur. The meeting involved SAM and WALHI, along with seven Malaysian CSOs, the Malaysian Bar Council, the Socialist Party of Malaysia, Greenpeace Malaysia and New Naratif, a Southeast Asian web-based media organisation. WALHI used this gathering to share the organisations ground information collected in 2019. The meeting agreed on undertaking two immediate key strategic actions. The first being the compilation of the activities and interests of the participating organisations on the fires and transboundary haze. This will be used to develop a practical future collaborative framework. The second is to use this framework to develop a series of political citizens’ actions to ensure that the crisis can be prevented in 2020; through the participation in the proposed CSO-ASEAN parliamentarian partnership. 

Finally, SAM organised a public forum in Kuala Lumpur where an estimated twenty-five participants, mostly under the age of 35, attended to learn about SAM’s research findings and WALHI’s ground data on the forest and plantation fires and the transboundary haze. This was an important opportunity for SAM, WALHI and other Indonesian CSOs and the larger Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific and Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) communities to focus on the transboundary haze crisis in Southeast Asia, and within the context of the FoEI community, to have this work on the transboundary haze crisis to be tightly integrated into the climate change narrative.

SAM and WALHI’s joint research publication will be released on in the near future.

For more information contact:
Theiva Lingam
Regional Facilitator, Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific