Postponed Singapore – Malaysia Trip

I had the route, major stops, means of transit (train there, fly back) laid out. The Isaan trip has worn off so I’m back in planning mode. Oh, the not-so-little details the travel industry doesn’t tell you.

Knew there was a forest burning season in Indonesia, but mis-remembered when it occurred and how long it lasted. Should have started my planning there instead of stumbling across it later. The burning runs from early July until the monsoon hits in November. None of the travel sites I’ve been using mention it.

The onset of the season is sudden so it takes one’s body time to adapt. How bad is it? One blogger wrote in early July 2007 “I got a burning piece of charcoal in my throat I got sandpaper throat
My nose stings when I breath”.

Not scientific enough for you? How about this NASA image of ozone taken Oct 22, 1997, a very bad year. White indicates visible smoke, green, yellow and red are different concentrations of ozone. Singapore and a big chunk of Malaysia are under the white areas


I’ve pushed the trip back until November. The rest of this post is about how and why the burning is destroying Borneo.

The fires are in Borneo where forest is being cleared illegally for palm oil plantations at an astonishing rate. The downwind countries have pressured Indonesia to stop with little success. Probably because the government implemented two large scale changes that caused it. The first was a transmigration program that started when they were a Dutch colony. Between 1979 and 1984 2.5 million people were moved from cities to work the land in less populated areas. Then in 1996 the Mega Rice Project attempted to turn a million hectares (2.5 million acres) of peat swamp* forest into rice paddies. It was a total failure except that the roads and canals created gave easy access to the forest. Slash and burn followed. Chairman Mao and Homer Simpson working together couldn’t have devised a stupider plan if they’d tried.

* Southern Borneo forest stands on 10 – 12 meters of peat, a brown, soil-like material consisting of partly decomposed vegetable matter. In some parts of the world it’s used for fuel after it’s dried. The Mega Rice Project drained the forest, dried the peat so when farmers light up a patch it burns for months. Avoiding palm oil because it’s bad for your health? Its production is destroying Borneo.

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