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“Securitising” the Southeast Asian Environment

Jeff Burley
University of Oxford

List of Papers:

  • Paper 1: The haze as a case of failed securitization and the politics of environmental security in Indonesia
  • Paper 2: Conceptualising Urban Water Security: A case study of Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Paper 3: Is Indonesia a bad neighbor? – The ongoing haze conflict in Southeast Asia

Paper 1: The haze as a case of failed securitization and the politics of environmental security in Indonesia

Scott Edwards
University of Birmingham

The haze that results from the burning of forests in Indonesia engulfs Southeast Asia and has a detrimental effect on the health of millions of people. It has also contributed to Indonesia becoming the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Due to these effects it has often been declared to be a case of environmental insecurity, both by regional and national actors, as well as scholars. These consistent declarations, alongside an acceptance by the population of Indonesia and ASEAN, suggests that the issue has been ‘securitized’, allowing more extreme measures to combat it. However, such measures have not been enacted and a change of behaviour has been minimal on the ground, suggesting the case is one of a null or failed securitization.

This paper argues that this case of failed securitization needs to be explored in greater depth to fully understand the processes of securitization. Our findings suggest that securitizing moves and audience acceptance do not necessary lead to the successful effectuation of emergency measures. We argue that this unsuccessful securitization needs to be understood against Indonesia’s vast decentralization process, which has led to a diffusion of power from Jakarta to the provinces. We found that it is the ability of local and regional elites, often entrenched in patronage networks with plantation owners, to curtail environmental policies which help us to explain the continuation of forest fires. It appears therefore that there are other, intermediate factors – in our case mainly linked to the nature of, and the power distribution within, the political regime – that impact on the success of securitization processes.


Paper 2: The changing of Jakarta’s water security from the 1600s to 2000s

Thanti Octavianti
University of Oxford

Water security is an emerging paradigm of water management and has been defined in a variety of ways. Rooted in risk science, water security is defined as “the tolerable water-related risk to society” (Grey et al, 2013 p. 4). However, water security means different thing to different people as it depends upon one’s perspectives and particular geographical settings (Cook and Bakker, 2012). A variety of topics was considered under the water security ‘umbrella’ term, from urban water services (drinking water and wastewater), hazards (floods and droughts), and biodiversity/ environment. This research seeks to investigate the changing of water security in Jakarta from the colonial era to the present time and thus characterise its current policy decision priorities. 


Jakarta faces multifaceted urban water problems, particularly regarding water services and flooding. Only 60% of the city’s population is served by reliable piped water services. The city also suffers from coastal and river flooding. Without intervention, North Jakarta is predicted to become submerged by 2030 (Antara, 2013). By examining literature from a variety of historical sources, this study found that there is an improvement in water security for the Jakartans over time but there is also an apparent inequality to access water and to receive protection from hazards for the urban poor.  Water policy in particular era seems to be “locked-in” with those from the colonial government. For example, during Soekarno era (Indonesia’s first president) clean water was only available for the European areas, neglecting the poor. 


Paper 3: Is Indonesia a bad neighbor? – The ongoing haze conflict in Southeast Asia

Máté Szakáli
Pázmány Péter Catholic University

The haze conflict in Southeast Asia is the consequence of a periodic fire-related large-scale air pollution originating from Indonesian territories. The problem started in 1997 and flames up every dry season, in varying degrees. Apart from Indonesia, haze incidents have caused adverse health and economic impact on Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, and to a lesser degree, the Philippines and Thailand.
The fire and haze problem is complex, with multiple actors playing a role. Politicians, environmental activists, and also non-government organizations, however, tend to center the blame on large plantation companies for being the biggest cause of fires and haze. The presentation will focus on proving this to be a misperception. Because field studies about the causes of forest fire and haze in Indonesia, as it will be demonstrated in the presentation, show a different picture: small-scale farmers and mid-scale land-owners, rather than large companies are the main cause of fires and haze.
The government’s and public opinion’s focus on large concessions alone is not going to do much to decrease the problem. Therefore, despite public health and economic concern, and the fact that the ongoing haze conflict highlights ASEAN’s failure to address transboundary issues, the problem remains as opaque as the smoke itself.