Written by Ng E-Jay
21 June 2013
The PSI has crossed the 400 level this afternoon. With atmospheric pollution well into the “hazardous” range, urgent action needs to be taken to address the crisis. As a nation and as a people, we must stand united against the problem, and seek constructive solutions both to the immediate concern of putting out the forest fires, as well as the longer term concern of reigning in the errant companies responsible for this depraved act against mother nature and against humanity.
I back the Singapore government’s efforts to combat the haze situation, and also urge the government to take fast, appropriate measures to safeguard the health and well-being of all those living in Singapore. Surgical masks must be made readily available, and given free of charge to the poor and needy. Polyclinics and hospitals must be on heightened alert to handle cases of respiratory distress, including chronic conditions worsened by the haze.
On a longer term perspective, the Singapore government must work closely with our ASEAN neighbours to bring diplomatic pressure to bear on Indonesia to reign in and punish the recalcitrant companies that have shown a scant disregard for mother nature and for human health.
And we must also be aware of our own complicity in the matter, through Temasek’s investment in some of these companies. We must use our majority stakeholdings in these companies to pressure them to change their destructive ways.
For two decades now, the pollution problem from forest fires arising out of slash-and-burn techniques have plagued us. There has been too much procrastination and too little done to combat the situation and force companies to be more responsible in their actions. With the air pollution well into the hazardous zone, now is the time for Indonesia and the region to come to its senses and wake up to the looming crisis.
The opposition party SDP also supports the government’s efforts to address the severe haze condition.
The SDP has also noted the absence of an ASEAN approach at Heads of Government level to combat irresponsible forest clearing techniques which result in the haze and pollution problem.
The absence of coordinated international effort has limited the potential for an effective and urgent response to the problem.
The SDP calls for:
- The Indonesian government to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution and work closely with Singapore to achieve a workable action plan with resources committed on both sides.
- ASEAN to set up an inter-governmental ministerial-level ASEAN task force (IGTF) under external chairmanship to:
- Explore wind and rain manipulation techniques.
- Study Australia’s bushfire management system and other systems as are available.
- Develop an Environmental Protection Endowment (IGEPE) to fund environmental protection initiatives.
- Conduct long-term education of the farmers about the hazards of SB and even subsidise them to eradicate the practice.
- Sanction corporations that conduct burning of the forests.
The SDP further calls on the:
- Singapore’s Finance Minister to declare the level of domestic Reserves that may be drawn down to fund immediate and long-term solutions.
- Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister to identify Singaporean companies that may be responsible for the forest fires and to work with these businesses to immediately stop the practice.
- Singapore’s Law Minister to develop an actionable Code of Practice for businesses.
- Singapore’s Environment and Water Resources Minister to provide the following amenities to residents:
- Clear guidelines to employers and schools /childcare centres on when to release their employees/children
- Free face masks.
- Free one-off polyclinic treatment for haze-related conditions.