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  Bernama 30 Oct 06
Haze Could Be Worse Next Year, Experts Warn

SINGAPORE, Oct 30 (Bernama) -- Experts have warned that the regional annual haze could get much worse next year than the one experienced in 1997 due to a possible return of the strong El Niņo phenomenon.

Instead of dissipating with rain towards the end of October, a prolonged El Niņo could cause the haze to linger till February the following year, The Straits Times quoted professor of meteorology Xie Shang-Ping of the International Pacific Research Centre (IPRC) as saying.

The warning came just days before officials from the haze-affected Asean countries are meeting in Indonesia for a regional workshop to tackle the problem which is caused mainly by burning of agricultural land as well as bush and forest fires in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan.

According to the report, IPRC researchers studying data for the past 35 years found that a combination of the El Niņo phenomenon -- which refers to the warming of the Pacific -- and the cooling of the Indian ocean, could cause severe flooding in some parts of the world and drought in other areas, including Southeast Asia.

A combination of the Pacific and Indian ocean conditions occurred once in 10 years, Prof Xie said.

A super El Niņo was last seen in 1997-98, the period the haze took crisis proportions that prompted Asean countries to sign the 2002 Asean agreement on transboundary haze pollution. Indonesia and the Philippines are the only two countries which have yet to ratify the agreement but Indonesian President Susulo Bambang Yudhoyono recently indicated that the country would move a ratification process.

Experts predicted that a strong El Niņo phenomenon would be catastrophic to the region.

"If the El Niņo extends to the next slash-and-burn season, we can definitely anticipate a haze matching that of 1997," said Assistant Professor Chang Chew Hung of the National Institute of Education.

Experts estimated the 1997 haze crisis to have caused the region losses of up to US$9 billion in disruption of economic activities and other costs.

In Singapore today, the pollutant standards index (PSI) which measures air quality, climbed steadily from 27 at 1am, which was in the "good" range, to the "moderate range" of 60 at 11am.

Some experts attributed the ongoing haze, which was particularly bad this year, to the El Niņo effect although much weaker compared to that of 1997. -- BERNAMA

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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