COMMENTARY: Asean Summit must take firm stand against haze


This Asean Summit must not only talk, but a firm stand must be taken, stresses the writer, adding that the recurring pollution problem must be solved once and for all. — AFP photo

NEVER before in history have we ever seen so many summit meetings taking place, in almost all continents of this turbulent, tumultuous, difficult, and uncertain world almost at the same time, or continuously.

Different geopolitical groupings are the key players.

Nearer to home, it is the time again for the Asean Summit now being held in Indonesia.

It must have on its agenda the climate change, which is now at its worst ever, and the much feared transboundary haze/smog pollution due to the burning at this time of the year, especially in Indonesia.

It is, without doubt, that the health of the people is being compromised. The much-battered global economy, on top of the threat of Covid-19 new subvariant, are causing hardships to all, with no exception, particularly the lower income groups.

Not only is the mental health of practically everyone very much affected, so is the attitude.

It is an unhappy situation.

Extreme climate change has a drastic domino effect on everything at the worst of times.

In our rather difficult and complicated world, if countries should ever meet whenever there is a crisis, then I think this is the right time! Now, today – and not tomorrow!

This is not a political crisis, but a death threatening health crisis!

This is the right time because there is again the most serious threat to the health and well-being of each and every citizen in these countries in the Asean region – not only Indonesia, and Malaysia, but also Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, the Philippines, Brunei and Singapore.

The latter is not being spared as it is surrounded by its problematic neighbours.

The much-dreaded transboundary haze is giving warning that it is here. Haze or smog pollution is our common enemy, right in front of us.

If the transboundary haze is unchecked now, all Asean will suffer, even the ‘green Singapore’.

Bangkok and Jakarta have always been polluted, and their citizens must have been suffering in silence all these years. The pollution levels breaking records ever so often there.

Babies and young children, senior citizens, pregnant women, and the sick, the disabled particularly those with heart or lung problems are very much affected by haze and smog brought about by the burning of the rainforests, and forests in general, as well as the annual burning of lands for multi-million plantations, and the small farmers.

Asean members must take this recurring problem more seriously this time as they have met a few times over the years but, most unfortunately, it appears that no concrete and firm action has ever been taken at all.

This Asean Summit must not only talk, but a firm stand must be taken. This recurring pollution problem must be solved once and for all.

A definitive action is certainly in order. An action that will produce satisfactory and effective results is all that the citizens of these affected countries would ask for – no more and no less.

Many countries have laws on pollution and burning, but enforcement seems to be an insurmountable problem, particularly in developing or under-developed countries. So this issue must be addressed very seriously and solutions found.

There is no point for all the pleasantries expected at these meetings, but a serious joint effort to tackle this health problem by a treaty that would make enforcement mandatory, and would deter people from committing acts detrimental to human health and the struggling economy of the countries.

Happiness or appreciation, or displeasure or anger, is often expressed at the ballot box.

As elections are expected in these countries, deeds and not mere words do speak volume for all parties that aspire to win the elections at all levels.

I am confident that Singapore, Malaysia together with the new Indonesian government and other economic powers, will be able to play the key role in gradually making the recurrent pollution a thing of the past.

Singapore is a country that has no burning, and pollution is under control due to its stringent measures in place. Moreover, it has done a significant job as a good neighbour to help others.