The New Southeast Asia Regional Organization: HAZEan

(Singapore, source: Asia Society

I remember back in 1995 when I was in third grade in local elementary school in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, Indonesia, I had to wear a masker to my school that was only 500 meter from my house. The reason? It was the haze.

Almost two decades later–18 years to be exact–the problem seems to be at its sustainable stage. The capitals of three initial five ASEAN countries are blanketed with this hazardous smoke haze coming from burned forest in Riau, Indonesia. But, The Indonesian government  doesn’t want to be the culprit for this problem because they are not the sole contributor to the problem. Recent report has surfaced several companies based in Malaysia and Singapore are also actively involve behind the smoke screen. 

Burning forest is still perceived as the cheapest and fastest way to clear up a forest area that will be transformed into, most likely, plantations. Of course, the cost of environmental damage, health issue, and potential diplomatic relations frictions are not within the cost function of whatever companies operating in Riau. 

If any government were to intervene in this supposedly self-correcting market mechanism, then the Indonesian government is the one, but not exclusively the only one. Regulation to strict any companies, domestic or foreign, to resort to this dangerous-to-the-environment means of clearing up the land must be set up. So does for the foreign companies operating within Indonesian government jurisdiction. 

(Kuala Lumpur, source:

Malaysia’s effort to help put out the fire and Singapore’s proposal to do so must be perceived as good intention albeit intervention to sovereignty as friends and neighbors in ASEAN. If the Indonesian government does not want foreign states to roam the forest in Riau to help, then they better do it themselves since Indonesian people in Sumatra are seriously suffocating as well.

One challenge in Indonesia, however, is which level of government should really held accountable? There’s no clear measure. But, since this is a recurrent issue even since the late President Soeharto was still in power, I am of opinion that the responsibility is greater for Riau Provincial Government. The devolution of power from the central government following transition to democracy has decentralized power and responsibilities from Jakarta to provincial governments. However, since it’s no longer a domestic issue, a strong coordination and collaboration between provincial government and Jakarta must be forged to solve this issue as quickly as possible. 

On the regional level, Foreign Minister of Singapore, K Shanmugam, will bring this issue on the next ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Brunei. Malaysia would be likely to follow suit. If the problem can be resolved, then ASEAN can be considered a preferable way to solve regional issues. If not, then the three countries mostly affected by haze have let the issue to consume their regional and bilateral relations. To think that human-made disaster such as haze to overpower ASEAN 3, they should have just called themselves HAZEAN.

In fact, above all else, haze is seem to be the only real physical glue that bound the people of Malaysia, Singapore, and (western part of) Indonesia. 

(Pekanbaru-Capital of Riau Province, Indonesia–source:


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