Due to an extended dry season in Indonesia, cross-border smoke haze could make an unwanted comeback to the Southeast Asian region this year. Malaysia has already been suffering from haze this year and visibility was cut in the capital Kuala Lumpur last week while air quality in several parts of the country was deemed unhealthy, a news report from Reuters says.
Areas such as Sumatra and Borneo regularly suffer from forest fires, but risks of haze appear to have risen with the return of the El Nino weather pattern this year. Though slight now, the haze situation could worsen in the coming months deep into the dry season. "If the weather remains dry, the hot spots in Borneo will gradually increase just like in Sumatra, and will cause haze," Endarwin, head of extreme weather at Indonesia's meteorology agency said. Another Indonesian official indicates that the dry season will peak around the end of July or early August, and with wind coming from Australia to Asia, the haze could travel to Malaysia and Singapore.
Spurred on by the 1997-98 fires, Southeast Asian countries signed the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002, but Indonesia has yet to ratify the pact. So far, it seems that the treaty has failed to avert a recurrence of the problem. As well as being unhealthy, the haze can cause major economic disruption costing the tourism, transport and farming sectors billions of dollars. According to a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) report published in 1998, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia suffered losses of more than $2.1 billion in the toll to their economies due to the 1997-98 haze. In addition, prolonged burning of rain forest in this region would release vast stores of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, worsening the global climate change situation.
The best short-term option for the region now is to help the Indonesian provincial governments implement various programs to prevent or mitigate the incedence of fires.