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Haze Outlook: “Sustainability efforts must continue”

01 Sep Haze Outlook: “Sustainability efforts must continue”

In August 2016, following the 2015 haze crisis, ASEAN set the goal of achieving a haze-free region by 2020. 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. Regardless of whether a transboundary haze incident occurs this year, sustainability efforts must continue, even as the world struggles with the fallout of COVID-19. Mr. Aaron Choo, Assistant Director (International Affairs & Media) at the SIIA, and a co-author of the report shares his thoughts on this issue below.

1. Clean air – why is this important to you?
Aaron: Air pollution is a tangible issue, compared to issues like climate change that are more abstract. Even if we understand that global warming exists, intellectually, we do not see the immediate impact. But the haze and impact on air quality is obvious. We can see the consequences with our own eyes, and there are immediate health implications. That makes it a useful starting point to spark discussions about the environment and sustainability.

2. Do you think there is enough awareness about transboundary haze?
Aaron: Public understanding has become more sophisticated in the last few years. By now, the average person in Singapore and Southeast Asia probably understands the causes and drivers of the haze. This is promising, though there is still a long way to go. Additionally, we are also starting to see haze issues gain more visibility at the global level, due to rising international concerns about deforestation. In some ways that is positive. But very often, global media sources from outside the region do not really reflect all the nuances in their coverage – often, they focus more on habitat loss caused by fires and haze rather than the human impact, and do not look very deeply at the challenges faced by people on the ground.

3. What haze drivers highlighted in 2019 still bear watching in 2020?
Aaron: The 2019 fires were exacerbated by unusually severe drought conditions. The good news is that the dry season is much milder this year. It is shaping up to be wetter than average. If this were an ordinary year, based on weather factors alone, there would be a much lower risk of haze. Unfortunately, we are in the midst of a pandemic, which is hindering fire and haze response.

4. How does the COVID-19 pandemic heighten the risk of fires and haze in the region this year?
Aaron: It is a question of resources and energy. National and local budgets have been stretched by pandemic response, as well as the need to support workers and businesses. There is less funding available for forest patrols and other haze prevention activities. While it is still unclear how the economic slowdown will affect farmers and plantation operators, it is important that sustainability efforts must continue.

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