Study to be conducted to assess impact of 2015's haze in ASEAN

Singapore's Minister for Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli says he expects “something substantive” to come out within a year, as data on the impact of haze already exists.
Monica Kotwani and Liyana Othman Channel NewAsia 4 May 16;

SINGAPORE: A study to assess the economic, health and social impact of the 2015 haze on Southeast Asia will be conducted, with the ASEAN Secretariat tasked to collate information from the various countries.

This was announced by Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister, Masagos Zulkifli, at the end of the 18th Meeting of the ASEAN Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution on Wednesday (May 4). The meeting, attended by ministers from Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, was held in Singapore and chaired by Mr Masagos.

Channel NewsAsia understands the regional study was proposed by Malaysia, with the aim of assessing the impact of last year's haze, which reached record Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) levels, and cost billions in economic damage to the region.

Elaborating on the study, Mr Masagos 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.

The Singapore Minister said he expects “something substantive” to come out within a year, as data already exists.

PROGRESS ON ASEAN HAZE MONITORING SYSTEM

Mr Masagos also spoke about the ASEAN Haze Monitoring System (AHMS), which was developed in 2012 by Singapore, to monitor hotspots and identify errant companies engaging in irresponsible practices to clear land. So far, no maps have been provided by any MSC country.

He said progress in implementing the system is key in tackling haze. “Without it, we cannot, as a region, be able to monitor the hotspots”, said Mr Masagos, adding that the AHMS is crucial in how countries cooperate and enhance information sharing with one another.

The AHMS currently uses maps provided by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and companies which are able to put up maps of their concessions. Mr Masagos said “this is just the beginning”, and steps will be taken “one inch at a time”.

What is more important, however, is accessing and sharing information among member countries to make the AHMS more effective, he added. But the minister noted that there are restrictions holding back progress, such as the ability for countries to disclose or get hold of such information.

Mr Masagos highlighted Indonesia’s One Map efforts to get maps, which are now in “disparate systems”, into one database. These two, put together, will “enable the ASEAN Transboundary Haze Agreement to be more effective”, he added.

The Minister, at the conclusion of the meeting, said the tone of this year’s meeting was more urgent, in light of the record haze last year, and following the historic Paris Climate Change talks, where countries agreed to undertake unprecedented action in dealing with climate change.

He said: ”Many countries have realised that if you leave something unattended, and when unforeseen things happen, it can have disastrous results”.

- CNA/kk

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