Poor Hydrological Management at the Core of Indonesia’s Haze Situation

17 December, 2018

“Lower Seletar in the morning” from SRN’s SG Photobank

Most Singaporeans are familiar with haze, a problem caused by winds blowing smoke from widespread burning of palm oil plantations and forest fires in Indonesia and Malaysia towards Singapore. During dry seasons, haze-forming biomass fires in Indonesia and Malaysia lead to haze pollution when there is little rainfall to reduce the haze experienced in Singapore and other regions of Indonesia and Malaysia. In Riau, Indonesia, poor hydrological management by plantation companies causes problems for local communities trying to suppress fires in their own lands. Professor David Taylor of the NUS Department of Geography and Dr Michelle Miller, Senior Research Fellow at the NUS Asia Research Institute, explain in The Straits Times how poor water management of peatlands and plantations in Riau is likely to lead to conflict between communities and more ecological problems.

The authors point out how peatlands in Riau often have to be drained of water before they can be used for plantation agriculture. However, companies with plantations in Riau have responded to legislation aimed at suppressing fires by damming some of these drainage canalsa narrow-sighted solution leading to larger struggles over water sharing between neighbouring communities. Not only do these dams interfere with the efforts by surrounding communities to prevent fires on their own lands, these communities become more vulnerable to floods when plantation companies release the water collected by the dams during monsoon season.

Prof Taylor and Dr Miller underline the importance of coming up with sustainable solutions to the haze problem, strategies that are holistic and allow for peatland communities to share their water resources. They also note that public awareness of the need for peatland restoration and conservation is growing, a positive trend in attempts at curbing haze pollution.

Read their article here.