Haze returns to Southeast Asia

Updated On: Sep 12, 2011

Southeast Asia’s annual haze returned as a result of extended periods of dry weather, with respiratory illnesses and finger-pointing threatening to resurface.

A recurring event since the 1990s, the haze is caused by fires set to clear land for agriculture and other uses in Indonesia. Officials say they have tried numerous ways to halt the fires, but with a large amount of land to patrol, it is difficult to oversee all burning activities that take place.

Reports about the haze increased in Malaysia and Singapore over the past week, with air quality readings hitting an “unhealthy” level of 101 in at least one area, the Malaysian Department of Environment said. According to satellite imagery on the department’s website, the number of hotspots in Sumatra was 381, higher than at some points during last year’s haze. However, the problem was not as serious as in the past, especially 1997, when pollution readings hit record highs in places such as Singapore.

In Singapore, the 24-hour PSI reading as of 4 pm on Sunday was 55, slipping to the “moderate” range from the previous reading of 41, within the “good” range. This is the highest level since 2 June this year. Last October, air quality exceeded the unhealthy threshold of 100, triggering demands for Indonesian authorities to take action, as reported by the Straits Times.

Meanwhile, Malaysia has complained about the problem to Indonesia. Environment Minister Douglas Uggah Embas has sent a letter to his Indonesian counterpart regarding hundreds of suspected fires in Sumatra, according to Bernama.

On Friday, air quality reached an “unhealthy” level in one area of Negri Sembilan state. Although conditions improved Saturday, about 60% of the country experienced “moderate” pollution.

Uggah Embas said Indonesia had improved efforts to fight the problem since 2005. He is expected to meet his Indonesian counterpart, Gusti Muhammad Hatta, at an ASEAN meeting in Bangkok on September 18. He added that Malaysia would push for the establishment of a regional fire-fighting contingent to efficiently tackle haze-causing fires in ASEAN member countries.

Other experts are also questioning whether Indonesia is solely to blame, with the Chairman of the Centre of Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia saying that Malaysia is also partly to blame, with some forest clearing occurring in some remote areas along with pollution from vehicles. He added that the outside world has not done enough to assist Indonesia to combat its problems, with help coming only from Malaysia and Singapore.

Report: The Haze is Back in Southeast Asia (Wall Street Journal, 9 Sep 2011)

Report: Poor air quality and visibility in several parts of S'pore (Channel News Asia, 11 Sep 2011)

Report: PSI in 'moderate' range for most of Singapore (Asia One, 11 Sep 2011)

Report: Malaysia ‘complains to Indonesia over haze’ (AFP, 11 Sep 2011)

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