Battle against haze hots up

Battle against haze hots up

15 November 2006

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Singapore — Thanks to the lurking El Nino, which is threatening to strike in force next year, a strong sense of urgency has seized the region in the battle againsthaze.

In fact, what has been happening in the last five weeks, during which regional officials were engaged in a series of meetings, has yielded “hope and optimism”, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday as he fielded questions from MPs on the hazesituation.

Describing the measures that have been drawn up as “concrete”, the minister however cautioned that it is not a problem that can be solvedovernight.

“I am a bit more optimistic now that we have something concrete,” said Dr Yaacob. “(But) will we solve the problem next year? I don’t think so. We would require long-termeffort.”

Singaporeans should not expect this to be solved in one or two years, he said.

He explained: “You need concrete action at the ground to develop new capacities among farmers and land owners to make sure they resolve to use land clearing methods that were more environmentallyfriendly.”

Even as they set out to fight the haze problem on two fronts, fire prevention and suppression, simply having farmers change their slash-and-burn method to the modern method to clear land would take some time, Dr Yaacob added. They would have to be given equipment, and be taught to use and maintain it.

While there is clear and strong political commitment on Indonesia’s part to eradicate the problem, Dr Yaacob also said that the country needs to ratify the Asean (Association of South-east Asian Nations) Haze Agreement to show its politicalresolve.

He hopes details of the implementation plans will be sorted out before the Ministerial Committee meets again in February 2007.

In response to MP Madam Halimah Yacob (Jurong GRC) who wanted to know the impact of the haze problem on the economy and the health of the population, Dr Yaacob said that a local professor is studying economic losses from the haze. Prolonged periods of haze, he added, would lead to losses stemming from a rise in hospitalisation cost, tourism, productivity and recreationalactivities.

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