Singapore Pursues Palm Oil Companies Over 2015 Haze

Singapore, September 2015
Singapore had to close schools at the height of the haze. Lodimup/Shutterstock

Last year saw immense forest fires blaze across Indonesia, creating a smoky haze that blanketed much of Southeast Asia in a choking smog for months during the summer. The thousands of fires were not just a massive environmental disaster, seeing vast tracts of forest burnt to the ground, but also an enormous public health issue. Now the city-state of Singapore, which was heavily impacted by the haze, is pursuing the Indonesian companies responsible.

The fires are thought to have been the result of the slash and burn agricultural system often employed in Indonesia. While most years sees this being conducted by local farmers, last year it is thought that major palm oil and pulp and paper companies took advantage of the technique to clear vast areas of rainforest so they could expand their plantations. As the region was already experiencing a dry season, the peat bogs upon which much of the forest sits went up like a tinder box, with fires spiraling out of control.   


The resulting smog shut down many major cities in the region. Flights were canceled, schools closed and warships were prepared for evacuations of the worst hit areas. While a Pollutants Standard Index (PSI) measure of above 100 is considered “unhealthy”, and higher than 300 classified as “hazardous”, at the epicenter of the fires some readings exceeded an astonishing 2,000 PSI. It is thought that up to 500,000 people across Southeast Asia died as a result of the haze.

Little has been done by the Indonesia government to tackle those responsible, but Singapore has decided to try and take action against six major palm oil and pulp companies for breaching the country’s own anti-haze laws. “We are going after, to put it starkly, the bad guys that are causing this problem,” explained Singapore’s ambassador to Indonesia, Anil Kumar Nayar, to AFP. But things are not going smoothly, as the Indonesian government has given sharp criticism of the city-state's legal action.

Indonesia claims that Singapore has no basis for pursuing its citizens for legal action, although Singapore has responded that they are not actually crossing any line at all. “We are not doing something that is extraordinary. It is not targeting any country, or anybody's sovereignty,” says Nayar. Under Singaporean law, they can fine any firm up to $74,000 for each day that the city experiences unhealthy levels of haze pollution.

While Singapore has requested that Indonesia hands over details of which companies own certain pieces of land so that they can see who are responsible for the forest fires and thus the haze, so far they have had no cooperation. Nayar has said that they will continue to pursue the situation, with or without the Indonesian government's help.


  • tag
  • palm oil,

  • Indonesia,

  • haze,

  • forest fires,

  • Singapore,

  • Southeast Asia