All stakeholders must play their part

All stakeholders must play their part

Last month, Singapore experienced its worst haze when the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index soared to a record 401.

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Supplies of face masks ran out, and people here suffered from various haze-induced ailments. Some offices and businesses even suspended operations, to keep their employees and customers safe.

The haze has become an annual occurrence. Every year, from June to September, the south-west monsoon winds bring acrid smoke from the burning forests of Sumatra to Singapore and Malaysia.

The severity of the haze this year shows that the slash-and-burn method of clearing land for the palm oil and paper industries is a problem that affects us all. It also forces us to acknowledge that if we do not find a long-term solution, things may worsen.

The haze issue is complex, and a multi-stakeholder approach that goes beyond government regulation must be employed.

The Singapore and Indonesian governments have made a strong stand, emphasising that irresponsible companies must be identified and punished.

This is a great step forward but, more importantly, we must prevent such irresponsible business practices from continuing.

We suggest that governments work with agencies on the ground to guide their actions.

Environmental groups have long been at the forefront of gathering intelligence on forest issues in Indonesia.

For example, WWF-Indonesia and its associated non-governmental organisations use satellite-and mapping-based technologies to identify and locate hot spots, providing information for government action.

Also, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has taken a long-term strategy to resolve the problem - the Indonesian team works on the underlying issues of deforestation and helps the government identify and protect forests of high biodiversity value.

The organisation also has a dedicated palm oil team that promotes sustainable production and supports the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, upholding the belief that palm oil companies must take responsibility for the full supply chain and ensure that not only their plantations, but also the fruit or processed oil from their third-party providers, are not fuelling the haze.

But ultimately, even if all the regulations are in place, if consumers continue to support products from irresponsible companies, the haze will continue.

While Singapore is enjoying a respite from the haze, let us not forget that it will come back with a vengeance if governments, environmental groups and people do not come together to take action.

Elaine Tan

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