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Haze Outlook: “Being able to breathe clean air is a basic need”

25 Aug Haze Outlook: “Being able to breathe clean air is a basic need”

Southeast Asia is not a stranger to the transboundary haze, a recurring air problem that poses serious health hazards and contributes significantly to climate change. In our recent Haze Outlook report, the SIIA warns that a severe transboundary haze remains a risk this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Meixi Gan, Assistant Director (Sustainability) at the SIIA, and a co-author of the report, shares her thoughts on the importance of clean air and the transboundary haze issue below.

1. Clean air – why is this important to you?

Meixi: Being able to breathe clean air is a basic need. Dirty air affects health, livelihoods and economies. This issue has been close to my heart for years – before joining the SIIA I was working on the problem of household air pollution in developing countries, where many people cook with traditional fuels such as charcoal that produce harmful smoke. With the haze from Indonesian forest and peat fires, the causes may be different, but the long-term effects on health and the climate are similar.

2. Do you think there is enough awareness about transboundary haze?

Meixi: No. In Singapore for example, when the skies look clear, air pollution falls off the radar. The SIIA keeps the conversation going through our publications such as the Haze Outlook as well as conferences and workshops that we hold. We need more public education on topics such as the long-term links between air pollution and health, links to climate change, and what we as consumers can do to reduce the risk of transboundary haze.

3. What haze drivers were highlighted in 2019 that still bear watching in 2020?

Meixi: This year we expect more rain in our region, so the “weather” factor is less of a risk. But the “people” factor is key. Government policy and private sector action determine how well peatland is managed, how effective fire prevention is, and how sustainability standards are upheld by companies across their entire supply chains.

4. How does the COVID-19 pandemic heighten the risk of fires and haze in the region this year?

Meixi: Movement restrictions due to COVID-19 have already hindered fire prevention and firefighting efforts. The economic uncertainty triggered by the pandemic may compound fire and haze risk. If the economy recovers quickly, most large companies will have the scale and resilience to ride out the crisis without major impact to their sustainability efforts. But if there is a prolonged downturn, sustainability and fire prevention budgets might suffer – not just the private sector’s but the government’s as well.

To read the full Haze Outlook assessment, visit this link – http://www.siiaonline.org/report/siia-haze-outlook-2020/.