Lessons learnt from recent haze episode

Lessons learnt from recent haze episode

07 July 2013

published by www.channelnewsasia.com

Singapore — The Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee said the haze issue is a long term problem which Singapore and the region will have to face.

The Committee, which was activated when haze levels hit record highs in Singapore last month, believes the slash and burn method to clear forests in Indonesia is entrenched and hard to eradicate.

Recently, the Indonesian government has put in more efforts to reduce significantly the number of hotspots in the Riau province.

If the haze does return, the committee said it is confident that Singaporeans will take it in their stride as Singapore is better prepared as a result of lessons learnt during the recent haze episode.

After about two weeks of clear skies, the Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee headed by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen shared lessons learnt from the recent haze episode.

Dr Ng said: “The first key lesson I feel we ought to learn despite all these developments which are positive in the recent weeks, is that the haze is a long term problem. Slash and burn is the predominant method in Sumatra and in other areas and have been practiced for decades. It isn’t a recent phenomenon. Our records of haze go back as far back as 1970s and I suspect that this practice will be hard to eradicate and changed overnight.”

Dr Ng believes a multi-prong approach is needed to deal with the problem.

This includes keeping up diplomatic efforts with the Indonesian government and getting help from non-governmental agencies to facilitate more sustainable practices.

In addition, a more robust early warning system will be useful to help Singaporeans prepare better for the haze and help them plan ahead.

Dr Ng said: “MEWR (Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources) is actually looking at the health experts and the weather experts, to come up with a better predictive model to look at the hotspots, weather patterns, historical data and correlate with actual haze conditions. I think all of us can recognise how difficult it is to predict weather. If we can have a better model, a model where we can trust or a more reliable model, I think it will help us all.”

Singapore will continue to ask Indonesia for more information on wind and rain conditions to better predict the weather.

Another lesson learnt is about information management.

Information needs to be given out catering to different groups of people, and not to create fear or even panic.

The Committee is also determined not to let the haze overwhelm the nation.

Dr Ng said: “The key message then was that even if the haze worsens, turns hazardous, just slow down don’t stop. Let’s keep Singapore going. Don’t allow the haze to overwhelm us. Let’s try to get on with our lives as much as possible because that’s the way that we manifest our resilience and our ability to overcome.”

When haze levels hit record highs, the immediate action taken was to restore confidence.

Masks were distributed to the poor and vulnerable.

“It was a good occasion for our contingency plans to be validated and I think we were able to respond much faster this time because of our experiences in the past decades – SARS, H5N1, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Each time that happened, we stepped up and just examined. The fact that the haze required us to activate plans gives us confidence that the so-called Singapore system works,” said Dr Ng.

Even though the haze may have subsided for now, Dr Ng said government agencies will continue to sharpen its contingency plans and apply the lessons learnt. The Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee will also remain watchful during the dry season if the haze returns.

Thirty haze-related questions are expected to be fielded in Parliament during question time on July 8. They will cover legislation, health impact, contingency plans and safety of workers.

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