The pressing issue of transboundary haze in Southeast Asia

Air pollution has long been a significant health concern in Southeast Asia, with the issue of transboundary haze taking center stage in recent years. This environmental challenge knows no borders, as smoke from wildfires and land-clearing activities in a country can cross national borders, shrouding entire regions in a thick, hazardous haze.

  • 🌍 Transboundary haze is a problem in Southeast Asia The persistent problem of transboundary haze in Southeast Asia, affecting countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, has seen fluctuations in severity over the years due to factors such as weather events and regional policies.
  • 🔥 Root causes of fog Transboundary haze is primarily caused by activities such as forest fires, plantation burning and land clearing for agricultural purposes in countries such as Indonesia. Regional cooperation and agreements are important in solving this problem.
  • 🌿 Efforts towards a haze-free Southeast Asia Initiatives such as the Second Roadmap aim to eliminate transboundary haze pollution by 2030, emphasizing the importance of joint action among ASEAN member states to combat this environmental challenge.

Peatland fires are one of the main causes of transboundary haze pollution in the ASEAN region. ASEAN has 56% of the world’s tropical land, although 3 million hectares of land in Southeast Asia have been destroyed by fire.

In an effort to address this pressing issue, environment ministers and officials from the six ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Timor-Leste and Thailand – recently convened the 25th meeting in Bangkok. Deputy Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution (MSC). The meeting, chaired by Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Police General Prawit Wongchuon, focused on developing strategies to fight forest fires and protect peatlands, a key contributor to the haze crisis.

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Severity of transboundary haze problem

The issue of transboundary haze has become a significant environmental and health concern in the region, with air pollution levels sometimes exceeding safety limits in some areas. The ASEAN Special Meteorological Center (ASMC) has forecast the possibility of transboundary fog events from July to September this year, despite above-normal rainfall levels.

One of the primary drivers of the haze crisis is the spread of wildfires, which emit smoke that can cross national borders. These fires are often associated with land clearing activities, such as burning forests and peatlands, a common practice in parts of Southeast Asia.

ASEAN’s Integrated Efforts to Address Transboundary Haze

The recent MSC meeting in Bangkok highlighted the commitment of ASEAN countries to intensify their efforts to address the issue of transboundary haze. During the discussion, each country reviewed policies to reduce haze and shared plans for future projects.

A notable development is Thailand’s initiative to establish an ASEAN Coordinating Center for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control. This is in line with the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze, which member states are preparing to ratify following their meeting in August 2023.

Key strategies and initiatives were discussed

The MSC meeting focused on several key strategies and initiatives to tackle the transboundary haze problem:

  • Strengthening Monitoring and Inspection Efforts: Ministers commended each country’s commitment to intensify monitoring and inspection efforts, which are critical for early detection and prevention of forest fires.
  • Enhancing peatland protection: The meeting placed special emphasis on the need to protect peatlands, which are a significant contributor to the haze crisis when they are drained and burned.
  • Improving fire prevention and management: Countries discussed measures to prevent and manage wildfires, a major source of smoke contributing to transboundary haze.
  • Strengthening Regional Cooperation: The meeting highlighted the importance of continued regional cooperation and coordination among ASEAN countries to effectively address the issue of transboundary haze.
  • Establishing an ASEAN Coordinating Center: The establishment of an ASEAN Coordinating Center for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control in Thailand was seen as a significant step to enhance regional cooperation and response efforts.
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Importance of Addressing Transboundary Haze

The issue of transboundary haze is not only an environmental concern; It also has significant implications for public health and the economy. Haze can lead to respiratory problems, eye irritation and other health problems, especially for vulnerable people such as the elderly and children.

Also, fog disrupts economic activities such as aviation, tourism and agriculture, leading to significant financial losses for affected countries. The economic impact of the haze crisis can be far-reaching, underscoring the need for an integrated and comprehensive approach to addressing this problem.

The Way Forward: Strengthening Regional Cooperation and Commitment

ASEAN countries can strengthen regional agreements and action plans by creating stronger domestic laws against transboundary haze. This will hold domestic actors accountable and prevent finger-pointing during foggy episodes. It can also prevent future fog and political tensions.

The recent MSC meeting in Bangkok highlighted the commitment of ASEAN countries to address the issue of transboundary haze. By strengthening regional cooperation, improving monitoring and inspection efforts, and implementing effective fire prevention and management strategies, ASEAN countries are taking important steps to address this pressing environmental and public health challenge.

However, the road ahead is not without its challenges. Addressing the root causes of the haze crisis, such as unsustainable land use practices and burning of forests and land, will require sustained political will, significant investments and the active participation of all stakeholders, including governments, businesses and local communities.

As ASEAN countries continue to work to ratify a treaty on transboundary haze and establish an ASEAN Coordination Center, the region’s collective efforts to combat this environmental disaster will be closely watched. The success of these efforts will not only benefit the people of Southeast Asia, but also serve as a model for other regions facing similar transboundary environmental challenges.

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