Those dreaded hazy days are here again. As can be seen from the past few weeks, the haze situation is deteriorating and threatening 5.5 million people who every day have no choice but to inhale the unhealthy air caused by one of the world's biggest transborder air pollution.
The haze has caused the air pollution index to hit unhealthy levels and gave no choice to governments but to order the closure of schools and the cancellation of flights on both sides of the Straits of Malacca.
Even Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had to order national and local officials on Friday to take action to control fires in peat-rich Riau province, giving officials three weeks to complete the operation, which includes firefighting, health treatment and law enforcement.
Haze has been on ASEAN's agenda since 1997-1998, when a choking pall of smoke caused by fires on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan drifted across Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
In 1997, more than nine million hectares (22 million acres) of land was burnt, costing the Southeast Asian region an estimated US$9 billion (S$11.4 billion) in economic, social and environmental losses.
Although the haze menace has not yet reached our shores, we should never let our guard down. Many frustrated social activists say that this haze problem could not have happened if the local authorities had enforced the existing laws.
What is most sad is that though everyone is affected by the bad haze, those who suffer the most are those from the lower income groups.
These dangerous polluted air levels need to be eliminated for the welfare and well-being of the people in the region, especially the very young, the senior citizens, and the vulnerable, particularly those who have lung problems, heart and cancer patients, diabetics and pregnant mothers.