The Haze


I did not anticipate this problem.

Haze shrouded Singapore as a result of forest fires in Sumatra island of Indonesia. Indiscriminate fires caused by deliberate burning of trees in the Sumatra forests resulted in a heavy shroud of mist like clouds attacking Singapore vigorously over the past few days.

Yesterday the PSI Index of pollution crossed 400, indicating a worse than hazardous situation, and the Government of Singapore was probably contemplating a general shutdown. But the haze situation improved over the past 24 hours, and at 3 PM Singapore time on 22nd June Saturday, the average 3-hour PSI reading was 122, which was a huge improvement from where we were yesterday. In fact, when I look out from my apartment, I can see clearly far into the open. Yesterday I could not even see the MRT station which is located just 200 metres away !

The Indonesian Government has to act aggressively to contain the fires as economic activities will grind to a halt and the price will be too high for a small country like Singapore. Malaysia has not raised any vocal objection even though the southern part of Malaysia (closer to Singapore) has also been affected seriously by the haze.

This goes to show that what one country does or does not do within its borders can impact its neighbours adversely, and such a situation should come under the purview of International Law. The ASEAN situation and partnerships are such that it would be almost impossible to take a neighbouring country to international court or arbitration. That kind of approach will just not work given the pre-existing ties.

The alternative which has been tried in the past is economic contribution and specialized support to contain the fires. While that approach worked in the past, now Indonesia is slightly richer and growing faster, so it would not take kindly to a “donation” mindset.

So, at the end of the day it is all about dialogue and negotiation to settle the matter.

In the meanwhile, we are all looking for N95 masks to avoid getting into breathing troubles ! And, the pity is that no pharmacy is having stock to supply !! I have personally checked at four different places and they don’t have any stock.

Welcome to the haze and be at the mercy of the forests !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
22nd June 2013

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