Haze update: Not act of nature but man-made, says NEA chief

An aerial view of haze shrouding Riau yesterday. Indonesia is investigating which companies are responsible for the fires.

SINGAPORE - Hence, Indonesia needs to take more decisive action against errant companies, Mr Tan told The Straits Times, echoing remarks he made at a two-hour meeting held here yesterday afternoon between Singapore officials and their Indonesian counterparts.

Read the opening remarks by NEA Chief Executive Mr Andrew Tan on June 20, 2013 in Jakarta at the emergency meeting with Indonesia on transboundary haze

Pak Yuri

Thank you for arranging this meeting with your agencies. It is most timely and relevant. As you can see from the presentation of my colleagues, the hotspot situation is deteriorating and could worsen if further measures are not undertaken to stop the burning as we enter into the traditional dry season.

The haze affecting Singapore has worsened dramatically in the last week. We are now in an unprecedented situation. Our 24-hour PSI reading entered the unhealthy range on 18 June and has remained in that range since. The 24-hour PSI at 12 noon today was 169 - 196 (unhealthy range) and the 3-hour PSI at 1pm was 371 which is in the hazardous range. The young, elderly, and sickly have been the most vulnerable, and those prone to asthma are seeing their conditions aggravated by the haze. Besides health and public safety concerns, the haze has already disrupted the normal lives of our public. If the current haze situation worsens, more Singaporeans will have to stay indoors and we may even have to issue general stop-work orders. Childcare centres and schools may also be closed. Singaporeans are naturally concerned and frustrated with the situation.

The number of hotspots has been increasing since 12 June. The latest satellite imageries yesterday evening detected 187 hotspots in Sumatra, mainly in Riau and Jambi. We understand that visibility in parts of Riau is poor and the airport in Dumai was closed yesterday. Our neighbours in Malaysia have also been affected by the smoke haze. We are deeply concerned about the deteriorating haze situation which looks likely to persist given the prevailing dry weather and southwesterly wind conditions.

The region has experienced several serious episodes of haze in 1994, 1997 and 2006. Despite the measures that we have undertaken, haze remains a recurring problem. Although there has been some progress made, there is much more that can and must be done at the national and regional levels.

In terms of bilateral collaboration, our cooperation in haze extends beyond the usual information exchanges. Our cooperation goes all the way back to 1997 when we set up air quality monitoring equipment in Jambi and Pontianak. More recently, Singapore and the Jambi provincial government have successfully collaborated on a project to jointly develop a Master Plan to deal with land and forest fires in Muaro Jambi Regency and implemented 9 action programme. The collaboration included the provision of air quality monitoring equipment and training of officials in GIS and satellite information interpretation, among other things. Between 2005 and 2012, Singapore had also provided assistance packages comprising high-resolution satellite pictures, aircraft for cloud seeding operations, and fire fighting assistance.

Singapore's haze on June 19
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Netizens share pictures of and jokes about the haze
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Regionally, Singapore has offered assistance to fellow ASEAN member countries by hosting the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC), contributed to the ASEAN Haze Fund and conducted courses under the Regional Haze Training Network (RHTN) established under the Sub-regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

We note Indonesia's efforts in combating haze by taking immediate actions to address burning activities on the ground. We understand that Indonesia has been taking steps to strengthen its domestic laws and regulations against polluters of the environment over the years.

But there are growing concerns in this region on the impact of transboundary haze on public health, environment, tourism, business and the economy. Haze is a recurrent issue that has affected Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. ASEAN's international image will suffer as a result of our inability to resolve a long-standing issue. We would like to propose holding the 15th MSC meeting earlier than planned to discuss measures to mitigate the situation before the height of the haze season in August. We also look forward to Indonesia ratifying the ASEAN Haze Agreement.

We read from media reports that there are Malaysian and Singapore palm oil companies who may be responsible for starting the fires. I wish to assure you that Singapore respects Indonesia's sovereignty. Our companies operating out of Singapore are expected to follow the laws of the land. If the companies have violated the laws, they should be prosecuted and brought to justice. We hope Indonesia will take prompt and urgent action to resolve the issue. Singapore will support Indonesia's enforcement actions against the errant companies. If you have information you can share with us on the companies, we would be happy to take this back and work together with you to ensure that the companies do not get away with actions that are hurting public health and environment. It would be even better if Indonesia can reveal all the companies involved in such errant acts regardless of whether they are registered in Indonesia, Malaysia or Singapore so that they can all be brought to task. The haze is after all a transnational issue.

Allow me to reiterate Singapore's commitment to work constructively at the bilateral and regional levels to tackle the haze problem. Singapore will continue to provide assistance in the provision of high resolution satellite pictures and aircraft for cloud seeding operations, should you require. We look forward to Indonesia's cooperation and further actions on this front both in the immediate and long-term.

Thank you