The haze situation that occurs in South-east Asia is originated from Indonesian forests. It started in 1997 and that year, the haze was the worst seen. Farmers and large corporations use the ¡°slash-and-burn¡± method to clear the forest. This method is, of course, the cheapest and fastest technique to make more land for crop-planting. However, it has serious consequences on the environment as the haze evolved not only contaminates the air but also poses a great threat to health.
While most farmers turn to employing this technique because they are poor and cannot afford land-clearing machinery, corporations have the intention of clearing space to start timber and oil palm plantations as it is the cheapest way to save money.
Added to that, should the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon happen during the haze period, the results could be drastic. ENSO causes drier conditions, thus increasing wild bushfires. Haze periods could extend from one month to 3 months and the air quality would drop dramatically. Negative impact done to health, economy, tourism and environment would be far greater than usual. A very good example would be during the 1997-1998 haze period. The PSI in Singapore shot up to 226 during that time and at least $7 billion was incurred in losses.
When exposed to the haze particles, many people experienced respiratory-related problems, such as
People with allergies and health conditions may also be negatively affected.
The haze pollutants might also cause damage to the hearth and lungs. Especially for Particulate matter 10 (PM10), which can be found commonly in the pollutants, which when inhaled would cause the lungs to function at a decreased rate. This might result in shortness of breath, which is fatal! Even more, this pollutant is very hard to be avoided.
The forest fires also produced greenhouse gases that contributed to global warming -¡ª shifting climate changes and unpredictable weathers results. The fires might also have destroyed rare species of organisms and endangered animals. It also posed threats to different modes of transportation.
The haze caused many flights to be cancelled and tourism rates in affected countries to decline tremendously. It made tourists unsatisfied about their vacations and even caused cases of accidents among modes of transport!
The haze situation caused a surge in medical costs as many people demanded treatment for illness brought about by it. People fell ill and less workers turn up for work, reducing efficiency of different industries during that period. People flocked to purchase health products to keep themselves healthy. Most stayed at home during that time to avoid inhalation of pollutants while many others went to indoor (air-conditioned) shopping centers. There were great losses in the economical and business world due to the drop in retail customers.
We have also come up with various suggestions in the course of our project. After researching on the different pollutant indexes used in different countries, we felt that if we could have just one single, standardized index, it would make work much easier for both citizens and professionals to measure air quality. It would be great if governments of all countries world-wide come together to develop and agree on a standardized air quality index to facilitate measurement of air quality in their respective countries.
The Indonesian government ultimately plays the most essential role in solving the haze situation and preventing it from repeating itself or even worsening in future. We suggest that it impose more stringent laws towards farmers and corporations that contribute to the haze so as to ensure that both parties put a stop to their inconsiderate actions.
Farmers could be provided with subsidies by the government to purchase the required proper land-clearing machinery (forestry-mowers, excavators). Farmers caught as repeat offenders should be fined or even jailed. Large corporations have the resources to do that, so if they are caught setting forest-fires, they should be punished severely by being heavily fined.
We learnt from our interview with Dr Chang Chew Hung that it is not enough just to draw up a law against farmers who use the ¡°slash-and-burn¡± method of clearing the land, but it also includes enforcing it. The government should be more active in sending officials to conduct frequent checks at the potential fire-setting sites, especially around September to December annually. This would reduce the chance for farmers to set forest-fires to clear land. Unless the government plays an active role in taking prevention measures against forest-fire setters, the haze situation would never be solved.