Singapore and Malaysia choking together

SEPTEMBER 22 — So, it seems Singapore and Malaysia are united again — well, at least in terms of facing a common obstacle.

That’s right, everyone, we are all choking on haze.

Which is a polite word for a toxic cloud of particulate matter, carbon dioxide, chemical and aerosol residue. Basically various nasty things.

Now the reality is that in this part of the world this is an annual occurrence. Farmers and plantation owners in Indonesia — particularly Sumatra and Borneo — set fires during dry months, usually August and September.

This is the most effective and cheapest way for them to clear new land for planting.

Effectively they are clearing forest land for their crops but the result, when this activity is repeated and spread over thousands even millions of acres, is thick choking smoke. 

This impacts not just the neighbouring fields and forests but spreads far across the region. 

Singapore, with hardly any farmland or plantations of its own, is blanketed in haze. 

This year, the air quality indexes have been worse than usual. The air has been outright hazardous, and hundreds of schools have been closed in Malaysia.

Businesses, events and lives have been disrupted in Singapore.

This has a real impact and year on year, it doesn’t seem to be getting better.

Neither Singapore nor Malaysia can unilaterally solve this problem.

Malaysia has to an extent reduced burning in its own territory but Indonesia is another matter. 

Asean does not appear to be playing much of a role and this means international efforts via the UN and trade bodies may need to be considered. Pressure must be exerted to force change in Indonesia.

On the other hand, Singapore and Malaysia cannot sit back and blame Indonesia.

Large companies, many of them based in Singapore and others based in Malaysia, actively contribute to the haze by lighting fires or not controlling fires on their land.

In general, palm oil cultivation and the palm oil industry which Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia all benefit from contributes heavily to the fires and haze.

Simply, the existence of these plantations means less rainforest and primary rainforest is a buffer against huge fires. 

To put an end to haze once and for all will require drastic action from the government, the private sector and consumers. 

We don’t need to debate global warming and climate change. In this instance, it’s clear that humans are impacting air quality and we need to act now.

To forget the haze when the seasons and winds change, and have it return in 10 months shouldn’t be an option anymore.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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