“Air pollution in Singapore reached unhealthy levels yesterday because of smoke from forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia, officials said” (Yaacob Urges Speedy Action On Sumatra Hotspots, AFP).
The news article, “Yaacob Urges Speedy Action On Sumatra Hotspots” (October 22, 2010): the various efforts currently undertaken by our administrators seem like the same script, different actors. With this constancy in terms of these ineffective and futile mediation and resolution processes, are the individuals and officials in-charge completely oblivious to the worsening air conditions year in year out? If not, are the involved organisations and ministries taking more constructive steps to reduce the haze threat in the future, to simultaneously minimise the associated health problems and inconveniences.
For years, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its member states have been trying desperately to seek a breakthrough for the recurrent trans-boundary haze pollution: from various cross-border environmental meetings to superficial commitments from stakeholders. Meanwhile, farmers and land developers continue to take advantage of Indonesia’s weak forestry law enforcement; the country that has yet to ratify the 2002 Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Measures have largely been all talk, no action. The involved environment ministers and governments – including Singapore – also need to take the blame for failing to contextualise the problematic air pollution problems, or to introduce more feasible and viable solutions.
In spite of the recent ratification of the ASEAN Charter, little has been done since the haze proliferation of 1997, 2006, and now. Sovereignty and the principles of non-intervention remain key tenets of the ASEAN structure; but when the haze situation – along with the undesired ramifications – transcends boundaries something has to be done. The nonchalance and the lack of initiative of our administration – particularly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) – are alarming. Are we genuinely satisfied with the miserable status quo? For the greater good, can Singapore not take the lead in this department, asserting greater regional clout and more active leadership to pressurise Indonesia?
To conveniently dismiss the haze issue as trivial would be dangerous. On a personal level, individuals inflicted with respiratory problems such as asthma would definitely struggle more, and create more hassles for outdoor activities. Our decade of apathy and lethargy has not only worsened the haze problem, but also emboldened the culprits to take advantage of the situation. From regional policing to empowerment of local farmers; there is so much that can be done on that level to address the problems.
The lack of ASEAN cooperation is appalling; and if Singapore refuses to step out and speak out more aggressively, her people will ultimately be the ones at the losing end.
A version of this article was published in My Paper.