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Southeast Asia: The Great Haze of 2013

Since last week, a thick haze has enveloped Singapore and some parts of Malaysia caused by forest fires mainly in Indonesia. The haze brought air pollution levels to a record high in the region. Malaysia placed two districts under state of emergency while Singaporeans were advised to remain indoors.

During emergency situations, the sharing of correct information has proved to be useful in minimizing or preventing further casualties. To help people cope with the impact of haze, online tools were developed like the Haze Action Online which provides information on the steps carried out by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to combat transboundary haze pollution. Meanwhile, the regional haze map shows the extent of the haze disaster in Singapore and Malaysia.

Southeast Asia's Regional Haze Map

Southeast Asia's Regional Haze Map

In Singapore, netizens are using the Twitter hashtag #sghaze to monitor and document the spread of haze. The N95 mask finder is a crowdsourced platform that helps consumers find affordable and reliable N5 face masks. The wearing of face masks is advised as protective measure against the haze.

The SG Haze Rescue asks people to donate N95 masks, volunteer, or share a shelter:

#SGHazeRescue is a community of Singaporeans offering air-conditioned spaces to individuals and families without such privileges. You can offer anything from a sleeping bag, couch, to a guesthouse

On the part of the government, the National Environment Agency has launched several online portals that give up-to-date information about the haze. It also published a list of clinics that offer treatment to haze patients. Meanwhile, the Emergency 101 website releases health advisories and clarifies misconceptions about the haze.

The haze has somewhat eased in Singapore but the situation remains critical. Lynn remembers how construction workers continued to work despite the city wide advisory for people to stay at home:

…there’s a group of people for whom the option to just take it easy indoors, is not available. Construction workers continue to labour through ever higher PSI (pollution standards index) readings. Despite calls from several quarters, the Ministry of Manpower has not issued a stop-work order

June finds meaningful things to do at home:

Breathe out haze.

Breathe in grace.

Regardless of how long the haze is going to linger, and regardless of the pain and inconvenience it brings, let’s choose to count our blessings and make the best of what we have, each day. (And oh, remember to stop and smell the roses no matter how hazy life gets…Well, figuratively at least.)

Eight percent per annum notes the sudden shortage of face masks and air purifiers in Singapore:

…there weren’t enough to go around. We hear stories of how poor aunties queue for an hour at Guardian pharmacy only to find out that the inventory ran out. We then activated our friends overseas to bring masks back from all over the world. Masks were running out in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia. Air purifiers ran out too.

In Malaysia, Muar and Ledang which are both located in the state of Johor suffered the most from the haze. Michael Ng is angry over the inaction of Indonesia to stop the burning of forests:

The Indonesian government can put the blame on Malaysian and Singaporean-owned oil palm plantation companies operating in Sumatra island for causing the haze but ultimately what is lacking is the strict enforcement of the environmental laws (if any exists at all) on their part.

How could it be possible for these companies to carry out their slash and burn activities with such impunity all these years if not for the lackadaisical attitude of the Indonesian government on putting its foot down.

I pity our school children and those elderly and suffering from asthma and other breathing problems. The haze has made their daily lives very difficult and uncomfortable.

Kuo Yong Kooi thinks the long term solution is to rethink the economic development model:

…the open burning in Indonesia is directly causing the haze problem at the moment, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many issues here that needed to be factored into the haze equation.

Fact one is that we are rampantly clearing the precious lungs of the earth which is the rainforest and substituting it with monocrop palm oil plantations.

We need to shift our paradigm away from this current development model to be able to resolve this problem.

anilnetto received a report about the burning in a plantation near Muar which could have worsened the haze:

The general consensus was that they bore the brunt of the smoke billowing in from Sumatra – but local plantation burning in Johan Setia near Port Klang and in Mukim Air Hitam near Muar may have aggravated the smog.

Charles Santiago, a member of Parliament, proposes to investigate companies which have violated environment laws:

We do not need to leave it to Indonesia alone to monitor, regulate or prosecute errant companies. Malaysia can keep a close watch on Malaysian companies in Sumatra and charge those that flout laws, for these companies have committed nothing less than a crime against humanity.

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