War on haze

Draw lessons from Battle of the Atlantic

During World War II, Britain faced a blockade by German submarines that threatened to deprive it of the food, raw materials and armaments it needed to continue the war.

How Britain confronted and eventually overcame this challenge to win the Battle of the Atlantic - through unrelenting focus, the marshalling of global resources, use of technology, and the skill and bravery of thousands of military personnel - has lessons for how Indonesia can battle the haze problem.

The situations faced by Britain and Indonesia are surprisingly similar.

Indonesia must locate and eliminate fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, just as Britain had to locate and eliminate German submarines in the Atlantic.

The challenge faced by Britain was, however, immensely more difficult - submarines can move and submerge to avoid detection; they were located in a much larger area (the Atlantic is 100 times larger than Sumatra and Kalimantan combined), and technology was much less advanced 70 years ago.

What lessons from Britain's success in tracking and destroying submarines in the Battle of the Atlantic could Indonesia apply to finding and extinguishing the fires on Sumatra and Kalimantan?

Here are a few:

Leadership

Put a competent and dynamic person in charge of firefighting efforts.

Relentless focus

Focus exclusively on firefighting. The focus on results is lost when energy is expended on blaming others, defending oneself or adopting the attitude that "we are doing the best we can".

Expertise

Tap the knowledge of subject-matter experts, including experts outside the country (for example, Malaysian firefighters), to develop the best solutions.

International resources

Use all available international resources (aircraft, firefighting equipment, firefighters, troops), just as Britain used ships, planes and personnel from the United States and Canada.

This would be viewed by the international community as a sign of Indonesia's maturity and commitment to do whatever it takes to safeguard the welfare of its people, be a good neighbour and protect the environment.

Systematic approach

Set up regional and local commands, and use an integrated system of satellite images, reconnaissance aircraft, drones and local spotters to map hot spots and direct the activities of firefighters.

Record the details of each firefighting "engagement" and share the lessons learnt in real time among firefighters.

Richard Mark Elliott

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2015, with the headline 'Draw lessons from Battle of the Atlantic'. Print Edition | Subscribe