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Indonesia's palm oil fires: Responding to the crisis

Posted Nov. 3, 2015 / Posted by: Jeff Conant

Massive forest fires have engulfed Indonesia for several months, and produce more daily CO2 emissions than the entire U.S. economy. The fires are responsible for as many as 500,000 cases of respiratory infections, and are directly threatening the world's last orangutans; for all of this, the fires are being referred to as a crime against humanity.

This particular crime against humanity can be directly traced to the palm oil and pulp and paper industries, which use fire to clear land, and which drain and dry out fragile carbon-rich peatlands that are the main source of the fires. Down the road from the palm oil companies themselves are the consumer companies like Starbucks, PepsiCo, Kraft, Heinz and Unilever, that have not done enough to prevent disasters like this one. As British journalist George Monbiot urges, don’t buy their products until they change. Also implicated are banks, asset managers and pension funds that have billions of dollars in palm oil, and very few policies to prevent them from financing the worst companies in the sector.

In response to the crisis, Friends of the Earth Indonesia, known as WALHI for its acronym in Bahasa Indonesia, has prepared safe houses in five provinces, and is distributing face masks, oxygen and free medical checkups for the public. They are also raising public awareness that these fires are man-made and not natural disasters, lobbying the government, and filing lawsuits against the multinational companies most responsible for the fires, as well as against local and regional governments for neglecting to sufficiently tackle the issue.

The palm oil campaigners at Friends of the Earth Netherlands recently sat down with WALHI Director Abetnego Tarigan to ask him some questions about the forest fires in Indonesia. To read the full interview, visit here.

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Friends of the Earth U.S. will soon be reaching out to help WALHI put out the fires and protect public health. Stay tuned!

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Photo: Fires in a palm oil concession in Central Kalimantan. Photo credit: Victor Barro, Friends of the Earth Spain

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