The View From Asia

Step up efforts to tackle haze, now

An outpouring of complaints spreads in the region, amid signs that it may take years to deal with the problem of haze from Indonesian forest fires. Here are excerpts from Asia News Network newspapers.

Pedestrians wearing face masks to protect themselves from air pollution in Palembang, Indonesia, earlier this week.
Pedestrians wearing face masks to protect themselves from air pollution in Palembang, Indonesia, earlier this week.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

So who's responsible?



I live in Jakarta, which is known to be one of the most polluted cities in the world. Last week, I was in Singapore for the first birthday of my grandson Amartya.

So why did I hanker to go back? Because the air in Singapore was making me sick.

I arrived on Thursday evening last week. When I woke up the next morning, I had developed a sore throat, a persistent cough, a nasty headache and stinging, bleary eyes.

Oh no! What a time to get sick, right before Amar's birthday bash.

I rarely get sick, so what could be the cause?

The haze! Of course! How ironic that I had to go to Singapore to feel the effects of the particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide-filled smoke from Indonesian forest fires, which have been raging for weeks this year.

Pedestrians wearing face masks to protect themselves from air pollution in Palembang, Indonesia, earlier this week.    -PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

I confess, I live in Cinere, on the outskirts of Jakarta, which has relatively clean air, unlike many parts of Jakarta, which also have the same pollutants emitted by forest fires.

When I was in Singapore, the PSI was 181. Whoa! That's in the unhealthy category.

In June 2013, Singapore experienced a record-high PSI of 401. Can't imagine how I would have suffered had I been there.

Considering that the haze is now becoming a regular part of life in Singapore, lasting for weeks on end, is it surprising that the Singapore Government repeatedly offered the Indonesian government help to put out the fires? But Indonesia rejected the offer, as we are managing so well by ourselves - not!

In fact, our 73-year-old Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has said that the forest fires are a natural disaster, like the forest fires in California. He even set up a website which allows Singaporeans, Malaysians and anyone else to express their appreciation and love for Indonesia for providing clean air 11 months of the year. It has a "thank you" button which you can simply click. Strangely enough, the button had been clicked zero times. Wonder why.

Mr Kalla naturally also refused to apologise for the haze Indonesia has been producing for decades.

National pride and sovereignty above all, yet again?

Sorry Mr VP, it's transnational haze. Indonesians are also suffering from it in cities like Jambi, Palangkaraya, Pekanbaru, towns in Aceh and other areas that have experienced PSI levels up to 2,000.

The next time I go to Singapore for Amar's birthday, instead of having the party in his condo's air-conditioned function room, I hope we can have it in the outdoor pool area, and celebrate not just his birthday but also the clean air.

A matter of attitude



In the past I suffered from an aggravated cold due to the worsening haze. But it was not as painful as what I went through this time.

I was wondering whether I should seek compensation from the Indonesian authorities.

I am sure many people suffer worse than I do. No doubt our health has been severely compromised, thanks to the stubborn haze problem, but there is no way we can claim compensation from Jakarta. Students, hawkers, farmers, people from across all economic sectors, and even the local and overseas participants registering for the KL Marathon, can justly seek compensation from Indonesia.

The question is: Would they be bothered about the tons of complaints in the first place?

Some 10,159 schools across Malaysia were closed during the peak of the haze disaster, affecting more than five million students and 425,000 teachers.

Parents and school canteen operators will also be affected, not to mention the year-end government examinations.

Restaurateurs and hawkers, who have already been hit by the implementation of GST in April, are seeing significantly reduced business. The tourism industry is also suffering.

Those suffering from illnesses because of the haze should get Jakarta to settle their medical bills.

Of course, these bills will never be sent to Indonesia and there is no way they will ever pay the bills. But that does not mean Asean governments should just sit and do nothing.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has pledged to solve the haze problem within three years. But given that the problem has plagued the region for well over two decades and recurred annually without fail, can we believe in such a promise?

In a daze over the haze



For more than a month, we have been choking on the haze wafting over from Indonesia's forest and plantation fires, and the worst is yet to come.

The acrid pall has become a recurring nightmare and Indonesia has done little over the years to remedy the situation.

As of last week, Indonesian police were investigating 232 cases of forest and plantation fires on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Of those, 190 involved farmers and contractors and 42, companies. Although Indonesia had said earlier that it was also probing Malaysian and Singaporean companies, only two foreign firms - one Chinese and the other Australian - are among the 42.

In 2002, the 10 Asean member countries signed the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in Kuala Lumpur. The agreement, the first in the world binding a group of nations to tackle transboundary pollution caused by land and forest fires, was regarded as a global role model.

It needs all parties to cooperate in developing and implementing steps to prevent, monitor and mitigate transboundary haze .

But Indonesia ratified the agreement only last year - 12 years later - and it was the last country to do so.

Clearly, whatever it had been doing all these years, and what it is doing now, is not enough to resolve the huge problem.

As for Asean, it has appeared to be in a daze over the haze. With diplomacy having distinctively failed in the issue, Malaysia, as the current chair, needs to do more to get Indonesia's commitment to resolve it.

•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers. For more, see

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'Step up efforts to tackle haze, now'. Print Edition | Subscribe