What would you do with $700 million? Singapore spent it on the haze

Wednesday, Mar 16, 2016

Singapore suffered an estimated S$700 million of losses during the haze episode last year, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli on Tuesday (Mar 15).

He said the haze was caused by forest fires in Indonesia, which were worsened by the severe effect of the El Nino weather phenomenon.

"We know where the hotspots were when the haze occurred. We need to have the co-operation of our counterparts to give us these names officially," he told Channel NewsAsia (CNA) in an interview in London where he was attending The Sustainability Summit organised by The Economist.

"We cannot have just one approach to address the problem. One of these approaches that we're trying to commit is the bilateral co-operation between Indonesia and Singapore," he told CNA.

"In this aspect, we have been asking them to officially provide us the names of the directors of companies, as well as the locations where these fires have occurred, so that the companies can be put to task, particularly if the haze has affected Singapore," he said.

The haze is caused by smouldering fires, often set to clear land for palm oil plantations on Sumatra and Borneo islands.

Last week, Riau's governor declared a state of emergency among efforts to prevent a recurrence of the 2015 haze.

Indonesia has said it is expecting drier than normal weather in several fire and haze-prone regions in western and central Indonesia this month and in April, the state weather agency (BMKG) said on Monday, referring to the recent increase in fires and hotspots.

The agency explained that fires were particularly bad in 2015 because of a prolonged dry season caused by the El Nino pattern, with smoke blanketing neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia for weeks and drifting as far north as the Thai capital, Bangkok, reported Reuters.

In October, Indonesian government officials sought to divert blame for the fires and choking smog that had cost the country an estimated US$16 billion (S$22 billion). They pointed fingers at BMKG for failing to predict the severity of the El Nino phenomenon.

Referring to the province on the central eastern coast of Sumatra, BMKG climatology chief Mulyono Rahadi Prabowo had told the media "Riau in March and April has the potential for low rainfall, so the potential for fires is high. Eastern Kalimantan (on the east of the island of Borneo) also needs to be on the alert for forest fires."

Another official at the weather bureau told Reuters there was a 50 per cent chance of a La Nina weather pattern affecting Indonesia in the fourth quarter of this year, potentially resulting in a wetter than usual "dry" season and heavier rainy season.

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