Written by Ng E-Jay
27 June 2013
Despite the haze problem persisting for close to two decades, the Singapore government was nonetheless caught off-guard last week when haze levels climbed well into the hazardous zone, registering all time highs on the PSI scale. The government’s initial response to the haze was tentative and indecisive, the supply of masks ran out too quickly, and it was a few days before the government got its act together.
This should not be the case, the problem having been around for so many years. N95 masks should have been stockpiled well in advance of any outbreak of hazardous environmental pollution or any pandemic. Emergency preparedness should have kicked into high gear right at the start, with precautionary measures well-rehearsed by all relevant agencies. Hospitals, polyclinics, and pharmacies should have acted in concert. Instead they acted in disarray, with some retail outlets attempting to profiteer from the situation by selling masks at inflated prices after receiving them from the government.
The government seems to have become cognizant of this shortfall, and the National Environment Agency (NEA) has put in place haze contingency plans for essential services. As citizens we must continue to put pressure on the government. It is not acceptable that critical elements like mask distribution and stop-work orders do not fall into place automatically when the situation arises. The system of distribution of N95 masks must be overhauled so that retail outlets do not have a chance to profiteer from any crisis, and poor households can get access to these masks free of charge.
On a longer term basis, the government should work in concert with ASEAN partners to clamp down on companies that destroy forests using hazardous methods like fire. Sanctions and legal action must be seriously considered against these errant companies. The current propaganda is that the legal framework is insufficient to deal with these companies. That is what the Indonesians would like us to believe. Actually, it is a matter of political and financial will, not of legal jurisdiction. As the majority stakeholder in some of those oil palm companies, our government should know that better than most.