Hazy Solutions to an Annual Problem


Every year, the 3 governments dust away the templates concerning the Sumatran fires and the smoke that is carried over to Malaysia and Singapore, sending people with respiratory problems into coughing and sneezing fits. Bluntly put, it is second hand smoke that will kill us over time. Putting it even more bluntly, it is Kronfrontasi revisited, albeit more insidious. Malaysia has got it worse than Singapore, and some schools were even shut.

The southerly and southwesterly winds and haze is an annual affair with some years worse than others, and it is stalemate on what more can be done. The 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution set the optimistic mood but this has turned into more and more cynicism with each passing year as one state has not ratified it yet and the identity of this state should be no surprise, Indonesia. Again no surprise, Malaysia and Singapore were among the earliest states which ratified it immediately in 2002. The anti-haze ASEAN programme really fired up in 1997 and the problems were not really forest fires per se but peat fires as well which is difficult to put out as it is underground fire.

Is Singapore being arm twisted yearly to give out aid to Indonesia to deal with the fire and haze problems? Apart from telling Indonesia where the hotspots are for them to put it out, the amount of monetary aid if any at all, going over to help them help us is anybody’s guess. This transaction is acceptable if the haze is contained but it seems it is not.

Indonesia qualified that it is not that bad every year. The implication is that Singapore should not whine that much as it is not really an annual transboundary problem where we have to deal with the big corporations and small farmers’ clearing of Indonesian lands for plantations. Moreover, the haze has not went over the "unhealthy" 100 PSI level in Singapore unlike in 2006 when the haze hit 128 PSI. There is validity in Indonesia’s perspective that it is not bad every year. However, as anybody would know, what matters is that as long as the neighbour is both defensive and recalcitrant in his bad behaviour even though it might be unintended and uncontrollable relatively, that is worrying enough even if it is not a regular occurrence.

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