Yes, that time of year again when vast plumes of airborne particulates from forest fires in Sumatra and elsewhere in the region cause choking pollution across much of Southeast Asia.
A very readable background piece offering an understanding of the issue is here.
There was some hope that this year would be different. In 2016 the World Resources Institute wrote here that…
For the last several years, forest fires driven by agricultural expansion have spiked every summer in Indonesia, creating smog and public health crises, including more than 100,000 deaths, throughout Southeast Asia. While fires are once again flaring, they’re not nearly as bad as usual—there are currently about a quarter as many burning across Indonesia this year compared to this time [September 2016] in 2015.
The article goes on to give a comprehensive explanation why.
Sadly however that trend seems not to have lasted a year.
Just a couple of days ago the East Asia Forum here Armida S Alisjahbana, Padjadjaran University and Jonah Busch wrote that “forest fires sweeping across Sumatra and Kalimantan in recent months prompted six Indonesian provinces to declare a state of emergency”.
That may imply the problem suddenly emerged, but as the Jakarta Post report here from January this year indicates, the annual emergency has effectively become chronic and now lasts for much of the year.
The reader can come to their own conclusion on the Indonesian Government’s recent claims to success in fighting fires (reported here), but given a recent Reuters report here that Indonesia lost a million hectares of tree cover in 2016 alone and the disastrous public health impacts from the smog that you can read about here, here and here, I desperately hope the Indonesian Government is right.
Mt Rinjani, with the infant volcano below
How can there be a better way to end the week than with some astonishing pictures from Indonesia’s volcanoes?
If the picture of Mt Rinjani above doesn’t impress you with its scale, have a look at the view from the summit of Mt Rinjani here with the pyramid shadow stretching into the distance.
Something a bit more dynamic is available by flying over Mt Tambora, which you can do here. For those readers a bit younger than me who weren’t around at the time, Mt Tambora last erupted in 1815 with possbly the biggest explosion since humans came down from the trees.
Perhaps I will end with this one here, a couple of thousand kilometres to the west. This is Mt Sinabung in North Sumatra filling the sky with volcanic ash and, flake by gritty flake, reshaping the Indonesian landmass with what will becom the most fertle soil on the planet.
Mt Semeru, East Java, the highest mountain in Java
The feature picture of this post is spectactular in itself, but it still only takes the bronze medal in my eyes. In respecting copyright I will not post the pictures here, but if you are interested the gold and silver medal winners you can view them here and here.
The first picture, to paraphrase the caption, captures the Tengger volcanic complex, part of a national park in east Java that lies within a 45,000 year old large caldera. The volcanic cones making up the Tengger complex are at the centre, with smoke coming from Mount Bromo and distant Mount Semeru also apparent. Picture credit for the image goes to EC Tong/Imagelibrary India Pvt.
The second picture, with credit to Firdia Lisnawati from AP, features Mount Agung (also in Java) and captures the emotion and dynamism of life in Indonesia beautifully. How I wish I had those photographic skills.
Earlier today I mentioned to a friend that I would like to talk about Indonesia’s volcanoes again (see the previous post here). Sometimes I start those conversations to prompt my thinking about the theme of a forthcoming post.
Anyway, by coincidence I see that I was beaten to publication by one of my teachers, the irreplacably brilliant Anthony Reid. For those who know of his academic reputation there is no shame attached to trailing in his wake, as most of us do when it comes to understanding and explaining Southeast Asia.
The link, available here, takes you to what I would argue is one of the best posts ever on New Mandala website.
Sigh. Time for me to think of a new angle on one of the greatest stories of the natural world.
Brunei, Buddhism, Cambodia, deep South of Thailand, demographics, environment, geography, history, Indonesia, Indonesian language, Islam, Java, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Sumatra, Thailand, Vietnam
If I had to limit the content of this blog to just one topic, I would be hard pressed to choose between Indonesia’s volcanoes and historical maps of Southeast Asia. I have written previously about Indonesia’s volcanoes here (and elsewhere from memory), so I thought I would take a moment to share my interest in just one set of the fascinating maps that are out there.
I have always believed that when I had made it professionally and was casually wealthy (the day is still quite a way ahead of me!) I would buy the book I have wanted since I first encountered it in my University Library.
Needless to say most Universities have more money than me, and given there are plenty of functioning motor cars available at a cheaper price than I have seen the book quoted online, I will simply continue to dream of buying it.
The book is the Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company. Volume VII: East Asia, Burma to Japan & Supplement. Volume VII is the last of the series, with the others being;
Volume 1 – Atlas Isaak de Graaf (Atlas Amsterdam)
Volume 2 – Java en Madoera (Java and Madura)
Volume 3 – Indische Archipel en Oceanië (Malay Archipelago and Oceania)
Volume 4 – Ceylon
Volume 5 – Afrika (Africa)
Volume 6 – Voor-Indië, Perzië, Arabisch Schiereiland (India, Persia, Arabian Penninsula)
(Volume 7 – Oost-Azië, Birma tot Japan (East Asia, Burma to Japan & supplement))
For reference purposes see the link here.
Of course I would love Volume II & III and ideally the whole set, but the complete set is getting into the price range that would rival the cost of some houses I have lived in. Such is life.
For those interested in the superlative atlas of Indonesian History I point you to the link here, while for those readers simply wanting to browse the maps by appearance there are commercial options such as the one here and free (to view) maps such as the set here.
Some really interesting background reading on the story of these maps is available here.
I hope you find some of the links as compelling as I do.
Disclaimer – I have no connection with or potential benefit from any of the commercial sites to which I link to here, nor do I make any recommendations on purchasing. Links are provided solely for informative reasons.
That is the title of the really interesting article in the New York Times here.
I doubt however that the trait is unique to Jakarta. I haven’t been to too many cities in Southeast Asia, but among the ones I have visited in Bangkok walking significant distances is really only undertaken by the poor out of necessity and as a rare event to be commented on in Singapore.
Kuala Lumpur’s achievement in having one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world tells its own story.
For those readers who don’t follow the news too closely, perhaps the most astonishing news this week was presented in (of all places!) the prestigious scientific journal Nature.
As the article preview here suggests, the central discovery was evidence that Australia’s indigenous people arrived, at some 65,000 years ago, much, much earlier than previously believed. Note that this is simply a new minimum, as additional evidence may yet push the date back further, but this discovery is already extraordinarily significant.
As you read this you may wonder what the link is to Southeast Asia. Well, the answer this time is pretty simple. If these first humans arrived in Australia much earlier than previously believed, then they are also anticipated to have passed through Southeast Asia much earlier than previously believed.
Somewhere, in caves, under the ash of Indonesian vocanoes or in locations we have either not looked or haven’t yet recognised, the chances of finding stunning evidence in Southeast Asia that could dramatically rewrite the story of our human species’ emergence from Africa has suddenly become more realistic. The discovery of the Flores Hobbit mentioned here may yet be dwarfed in the annals of Southeast Asian archeology.
And that, to me, is tremendously exciting.