Singapore — Progress in information sharing has been made during the 18th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution held in Singapore.
Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli told a press conference on Wednesday that the close-door meeting was attended by ministers responsible for the environment from Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
They discussed key issues pertaining to haze prevention measures in the five MSC countries, including the implementation of the ASEAN Sub-Regional Haze Monitoring System, mobilization of international assistance to support fire-fighting efforts, and exchange of information among countries.
Chairing the press conference, Zulkifli said the biggest agreement during this meeting is that the countries will be going forward on sharing information.
“There is a preformed agreement where countries must share information of their hotspots. I think this is a big move forward on this thing. Of course, the modality is how this is going to be done, when and how far and so forth… But we have a big achievement on that, because in the past, there’s a lot of pushback on sharing information, even anonymous information. So in this case, at least we have an agreement and we can move forward on to this,” he said.
During the meeting, the ministers also announced to conduct a regional study on the economic, health and social impact of haze in 2015 on the ASEAN region.
This study is believed to be crucial for ASEAN to assess the implication of the 2015 haze incident and enable countries to have a baseline economic, health and social data to understand the impact of transboundary haze.
Elaborating on that, Zulkifli said countries that were affected by the haze have been collecting different information, depending on how they were impacted.
“For example, Singapore has been studying the impact of haze on tourism, while Indonesia saw a reduction in the yield of crops. This is information the ASEAN Secretariat will collate.”
Haze problem has been lingering around the region for decades, with air quality continues to deteriorate in recent years.
In 2013, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which measures the air quality of Singapore, hit a record high of over 400.
And last year, haze has been going back and forth for over two months due to dry weather, making it one of the worst years with haze in the region.
Along with the environment issue, haze also causes huge economic losses. According to the World Bank, forest fires in Indonesia last year cost the country at least 16 billion U.S. dollars in economic losses, equivalent to 1.9 percent of its gross domestic product. As a victim of the haze, haze also caused Singapore the economic loss of over 500 million U.S. dollars last year.
This year, according to the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Center’s forecast, with El Nino expected to return to neutral conditions by mid-2016 and with a chance of La Nina developing in the third quarter, normal to above normal rainfall can be expected for the region during the season.
This may “hopefully” lower the risk and severity of the haze problem this year, according to Zulkifli.
He and the other ministers also noted that the MSC countries pledged to remain vigilant and continuously monitor and step up their haze preventive efforts to minimise any possible occurrence of transboundary smoke haze from land and forest fires in anticipation of the drier weather in the coming months.