Every year during Indonesia’s six-month dry season, which lasts until around October, a noxious haze rises from the island of Sumatra. Generally lasting about a month at its worst, it’s so large that it hovers over an entire region, including Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.
The haze is caused by massive amounts of dense smoke coming from fires that are set to cheaply burn trees or peat off the land—land that can be more profitably used for producing palm oil or paper. The haze regularly leads to school closures, canceled flights, and serious health problems.
Neighboring nations, of course, complain about this—not that Indonesia’s government officials much seem to mind. In March, Indonesian vice president Jusuf Kalla said:
“For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us. They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset.”
His comments—similar to statements he made as far back as 2005—were widely lambasted in online outlets and on social media, but that didn’t stop him from making the argument. During a Sept. 24 appearance in New York at the Indonesian Consulate-General, notes the Straits Times, he said the following on whether his nation should apologize to its neighbors for the haze.
“Look at how long they have enjoyed fresh air from our green environment and forests when there were no fires. Could be months. Are they grateful? But when forest fires occur, a month at the most, haze pollutes their regions. So why should there be an apology?”
His sentiments were echoed on Sept. 28 by Teten Masduki, the chief of staff to Indonesian president Joko Widodo:
“Singapore has enjoyed a supply of oxygen from Indonesia in the past nine months and we also know that there are many plantation and mining companies that keep their export proceeds in Singapore.”
Meanwhile, thanks to wind patterns, Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital and seat of power, remains largely unaffected by the haze—and is no doubt grateful for it.