Baby orangutans, which had previously suffered from respiratory problems, playing at a nursery in the rehabilitation center operated by the BOSF on the outskirts of Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan. (AFP Photo/Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF)/Indrayana)

Nadya Hutagalung: Together We Can End the Haze Crisis


NOVEMBER 08, 2015

On a recent flight from Jakarta to Denpasar, I stared out the window at the blue sky -- a real luxury these days that I was only able to see after passing through toxic haze and smog. I am sure there isn't a person out there who hasn't wished for blue skies to return.

As an ambassador for the United Nations Great Apes Survival Partnership (Grasp), I am tasked with speaking to issues that affect apes and their habitat, or threaten their survival, and this current haze is doing just that. Experts believe that up to one-third of the endangered orangutans are threatened by these fires, and environmental damage and the loss of so much carbon-rich peat land will have impacts no one can predict.

But the haze from these fires isn’t just the cost of business for development in Indonesia, or an anomaly whipped up by El Nino. It’s a symptom of something far worse: an unwillingness to change, that has already destroyed more than two million hectares of rain forest and will cost the Indonesian government more than $30 billion. Countries such as Malaysia and Singapore have also been affected by the haze.

After months of drought, rains in the past few days have cleared the skies in several areas, but this crisis is not over and if we don't change our ways it will continue to happen every year.

So I would like you to promise me here that if you read any further you will stop being complacent and take action, because I promise that you do have the power to make a difference.

If you are a parent, as I am, then you have even more reason to get into gear. I believe if we -- the parents who works so hard to feed and educate our own children that we love so much -- if we can’t rid ourselves of ignorance and educate ourselves to the realities of the world around us and make a difference for them, then who will?

Indonesia is one of the most richly biodiverse places on the planet, with countless species and others that have yet to be discovered. Our forest are filled with so many medicinal plants and species that are rare and endangered and Sumatra, which is badly affected by the fires, is the only place in the world to be home to four iconic species: orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos. And yet, short-term thinking and the pursuit of profit are wiping everything out.

According to a recent study by the Global Fire Emissions Database, the total emissions from the fires this year is now higher than the total emissions of Japan in 2013. No more blue skies, No more rich tropical forests that provide livelihoods and biodiversity for the region, no more clean air to breath, no end in sight.

Sitting around and waiting for a higher power to make a change has obviously not worked. It’s our time. We have the power. Use your power wisely and create impact that reaches beyond our years. It’s time to demand the government of Indonesia protect the peat lands, which is the type of soil with the highest carbon storage capacity. Activities on these lands can greatly exacerbate the problems of haze and damage essential ecosystem functions related to water, temperature and carbon dioxide emissions.

Recently, I attended a talk by the Dalai Lama and a panel of the world’s top environmental experts, who spoke about the issue of climate change. They discussed different ways for humanity to build a more compassionate planet -- yet they conceded that only we, the public, are the ones with the power to create meaningful change. Not the scientists. Yes, science can provide evidence and statistics but it is us who need to use their data and apply their findings to make meaningful changes in our daily lives. Their years of research and discovery were otherwise meaningless.

We consumers have so much power. The power of information, the power of influence and most important, the power of the purse. We have the power to choose. To choose to buy from companies that are being responsible with their supply and production procedures, companies that are ethical, companies that develop products in a certified, sustainable manner, and companies that have humanity’s long-term goals in mind.

I am currently filming a television series that aims to highlight all of the beautiful travel destinations in Indonesia, and the production has allowed me to visit so many parts of the country. Indonesia is a country rich in art, culture, and natural beauty but alas, at the moment all we see is gray. No view. No vibrancy. No color but gray. This should stop, and never be allowed to happen again.

Nadya Hutagalung is an ambassador for the United Nations Great Apes Survival Partnership (Grasp).  and