Why It Matters

Haze: Still much to do for Jokowi

When Indonesia's President Joko Widodo announced he was cutting short his United States visit so he could attend to the haze crisis at home, many had thought the worst as the transboundary haze was then heading into its third month.

Conditions this year are statistically the worst for the decades-old haze problem, surpassing the 1997 and 2013 crises. There are 19 haze-related deaths so far, and more than half a million people have been treated for acute lung infections .

The fires have razed some 2.1 million ha of forests and peatland, and released record levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The crisis' severity prompted an initially hesitant government to consider declaring a national emergency. So, many assumed the announcement would come as soon as the President arrived in Palembang. It did not. Instead, Mr Joko, in a white shirt with sleeves rolled up, embarked on his trademark blusukan, or impromptu visits, to get a first-hand look at conditions on the ground.

That his return coincided with much-needed rainfall, which helped put out the fires and clear the air, had some calling him a rainmaker. Others rued the opportunity cost of shortening his US trip.

Few, however, would argue that having a head of state on the ground, tackling such a major crisis head-on with his people, will lose him votes.

There was nothing Mr Joko could do about Mother Nature stealing his thunder, but there is still much to do, especially since his decision to abandon the rest of his US visit has attracted attention globally.

For starters, he can show the world Indonesia is determined to resolve this problem once and for all. And therein lies an opportunity for Mr Joko.

Solve this perennial problem and he would have accomplished what his predecessors could not. More importantly, it would show both doubters and green activists that Indonesia is no laggard when it comes to climate change.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2015, with the headline 'Haze: Still much to do for Jokowi'. Print Edition | Subscribe