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  The Straits Times 5 Jan 07
Singapore Haze will worsen, action needed now
Tania Tan

Today Online 5 Jan 06
Experts sniff at 'blow hot, blow cold' approach to haze problem
Tor Ching Li

Now that rainy days have overtaken the hazy days, nobody is bothering about the haze problem anymore--at least, not until it becomes a problem again.

That is partly why the haze problem is still here, 20 years after it first blew to our shores, said Mr Gurmit Singh, chairman of the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development (Malaysia).

He was speaking at the Regional Outlook Forum yesterday organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. "I've been observing the problem for the past 20 years, and it is getting worse each year. We wait for the haze to come, then we get very worked up about it, and then forget about it till it comes again.

"Now that the media attention is no longer on the haze, no one is bothering about the problem."

This is despite the huge costs incurred in regional economies because of the haze.

Experts estimate the cost to the Singapore economy last year at US$50 million ($76.7 million). In 1997-1998, the prolonged haze was estimated to have cost regional economies US$9 billion, prompting the proposal of the haze treaty among the Association of South-east Asian Nations, of which Indonesia is a member.

But University of Indonesia Professor Emil Salim, who chairs the Indonesian Economic Advisory Council, said Indonesia was not ratifying the haze treaty because of a lack of political will.

Echoing this, Mr Singh said: "The haze treaty is ineffectual. I see no paradigm shift. If nothing is done over the next two years, the quality of life in Singapore and the region will be affected, and it may deter people from coming here to work."

The Straits Times 5 Jan 07
Singapore Haze will worsen, action needed now
Tania Tan

Immediate moves needed in addition to long-term changes in mindset

EXPERTS at a regional forum yesterday were clear about one thing: The haze this year is likely to be worse than last year. But when it came to discussing what to do about the annual bout of acrid smoke from Indonesia, the debate got a bit heated.

Solving the problem will take a long-term effort to change the way Indonesia values its resources, argued Professor Emil Salim, chairman of the nation's economic advisory council.

Speaking at the Regional Outlook Forum 2007, he noted that it costs an estimated US$250 (S$385) per hectare for companies to clear forests in a responsible manner, using modern machines. In contrast, clearing land by burning costs just US$5 per hectare.

But this did not take into account the cost to the environment, he said.

To tackle this problem, Indonesia needs to 'get the price right', he argued, adding that this calls for long-term changes in the way society values the environment and economic efficiency.

It will take government action, as well as efforts by civic society groups, he said. 'The Indonesian government alone cannot effect change,' said the former environment minister. 'Industry and society must play a part to preserve our forests too.'

However, Professor Simon Tay, chairman of non-governmental think- tank Singapore Institute for International Affairs, said waiting for Indonesia to restructure its economy will take far too long.

Indonesia, and Asean, cannot 'wait for perfection' before acting to check the haze, he said at the one-day forum on issues to watch this year, organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and held at Shangri-La Hotel.

While he agreed that long-term changes in mindset are needed, action is needed now if this year's worse-than-ever haze is to be averted, he warned.

'These are not easy problems to solve,' said Prof Tay, who is also chairman of Singapore's National Environment Agency. 'But they are not unsolvable.'

Stricter laws on illegal land clearing could be a more immediate deterrent, he said. Governments and business players in the region need to take action to stop the forest burning.

Referring to Indonesia's refusal to sign the 2002 regional haze pollution agreement, Prof Tay said: 'Treaties are but promises, but at least by signing we can hold you to your promises.'

Welcoming Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's pledge to take action to solve the problem, he added that Indonesia and Asean's credibility is on the line.

'We will probably see worse times,' said Prof Tay. 'And the cost could be the credibility of the Indonesian government.' One or two years of bad haze, he warned, 'could smell like Hong Kong', where pollution has hit investments. If this happened, foreign investors might conclude that Asean could not get its act together to tackle a highly visible problem.

He pointed out that the biggest victims of the haze are not Singaporeans or Malaysians, but Indonesians, whose concerns are not heard by their leaders in Jakarta.

Another speaker at the forum, executive director for the Malaysian Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Mr Gurmit Singh, agreed. He wondered if there might be more attention to the problem if the winds blew the haze towards Jakarta instead of into neighbouring countries.

Despite all the pledges for action, he said the question on the minds of many in the region is: 'Will we just keep talking about it, or will we finally do something about it?'

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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