I wasn’t expecting things to deteriorate quite as quickly as they have today.
Just in case readers aren’t familiar with this Air Quality Index scale, readings are based on several factors but the figure 248 refers to parts per million of particles 2.5 microns in size. These have a capacity to enter the lungs and remain deep inside.
So, where is all this smoke haze coming from today.
First, here is yesterdays wind map showing hotspots in the ASEAN region. There are two in Sumatra.
Here is a map showing palm oil plantations and peat domes in Sumatra.
Without doing a precise mapping exercise to match the active hotspots with peat domes, it’s still obvious that the most likely source of Singapore’s smoke haze pollution right now is a hot spot west south west of Palembang. At the time of writing Palembang is at AQI 54 but this is a PM 10 reading
Several days ago I was impressed by the sheer magnitude of the Grand Indonesia Shopping Town. It could certainly be described as a small town given it’s extent and it’s complexity of functions and services. The base line is that there’s a vast number and variety of shops with a mind-boggling volume of goods.
An official website explains that Grand Indonesia Shopping Town consists of Grand Indonesia Shopping Mall, BCA Tower, Kempinski Private Residences and Hotel Indonesia Kempinski, the old Hotel Indonesia on Jl Thamrin.
The project was designed by RTKL Associates Inc. an architecture and urban planning firm with headquarters in Baltimore, USA. According to the website ‘. . . the core concept was to merge the grandeur of a cutting edge mega complex with the friendly atmosphere of a well-integrated small town.’ and this it has most certainly done.
Despite enjoying the experience of shopping in such a person friendly environment, my mind kept returning to one unsettling fact, the US$242 million Grand Indonesia Shopping Town project was built with money from the major cigarette company, Djarum, under a 30-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) contract.
Moving about the vast 7 hectare complex, images of the suffering caused by cigarette smoking disrupted my thoughts. I recalled the story of the young woman, covered by Australia’s ABC, last year, who died in her 20s a victim of slip stream smoke.
There is much balanced and non-sensational comment available on the magnitude of Indonesia’s smoking problem. There is also the tragically bizarre, such as the infant with a 40-a-day habit.
In May 2010 Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, issued a fatwa against smoking and encountered both political criticism and street protests.
Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali cautioned Muhammadiyah against causing “public restlessness” suggesting they need act “more wisely”, such is the power of the tobacco industry in Indonesia.
To make matter worse, according to AFP reports, although excise taxes have recently been increased “prices remain extremely low by international standards, with a pack of 20 costing little more than a dollar. Even so, studies have shown that poor families spend more on cigarettes than on books and education.”
They also make some observations about the economic significance of the tobacco industry noting that the Indonesian government refuses to cut tobacco production levels
The problem of tobacco’s economic importance is partly traceable to the Dutch system of enforced cultivation of cash crops, beginning from the 1830 through to the 1870s, when it was smewhat relaxed. The colonial administration forced cultivation introduced to Java. was known as the Cultivation System (Dutch: cultuurstelsel). It compelled farmers to deliver fixed amounts of specified crops, such as sugar or coffee. To ensure its success the administration disrupted ancient irrigation system and practices that provided water for wet rice agriculture. A legacy remains in the significant tracts of land available to cultivate cash crops including tobacco.
Appealing to the young
Smoking is broadly accepted amongst the young and tobacco companies have been quick to target youthful dreams and aspirations, in their marketing. There is scarcely a musical or sporting event that isn’t associated with smoking in some way.
The implied promises offer a life style that is exciting and transcendant, on the cutting edge, contemporary and life affirming. Fortunately the small print reads ” Smoking can cause cancer, heart disease, impotence and disturbances to pregnancy and fetuses.
Smoking on the increase
Smoking rates in Indonesia are on the increase, but in a country where the health budget is only 3% of GDP, there is little exacting health research to pin down the true costs of smoking to the nation. University of Indonesia’s Professor Hasbullah Thabrany has studied the health effects of smoking and says the economic picture is incomplete because health care is chronically underfunded. Interviewed on Radio Australia, he says that if the Indonesian government ban cigarette advertisements near schools and in and on television when children are likely to be watching.