sábado, 22 de junho de 2013

I am a smoker

I have to confess: I started smoking this week. I know I am too old for this... but I am not alone: millions of people in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have started as well. Sad but true.

Just to give a sense, here are the two views from our apartment (East - try to spot the 8am sun on the 'dirty' photo - and West), cleaner vs. dirtier air:

(For those who know Monte Novo: it seems we are inside the fire there... the whole day... and our clothes get equally smelly.)

I feel we are in one of those post-apocalyptic movies: World War III, nukes here and there, unbreathable air, no one on the streets, at home with closed windows, see no one, hear no one... Are we the last survivors?

What is causing all this? Fires in the neighboring Indonesian island of Sumatra. Human-provoked fires, according to Greenpeace on palm oil plantations owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies. These Google Earth images and the following NASA picture show what's happening well (the red dots are fires):

In my privileged life, for now there is not much I can complain about: I'm taking a forced break from running, staying at home more, feeling a sore throat... I haven't been able to buy the recommended N95 mask, which is out of stock in most pharmacies. And perhaps more expensive in some places, as, according to the Consumer Association of Singapore, some take the opportunity of this peak demand to make quick money.

Those who work outdoors are surely suffering more. The Ministry of Manpower has asked employers to "minimize strenuous work outdoors" and issued guidelines to protect employees from the haze. Not much sounds mandatory, and enforcement seems poor: I have seen many construction workers active outdoors without any mask - just one more reminder that they are not "people" as others are on this island...

What can be done, besides praying for rain and for the wind to change direction? This is a typical Tragedy of the Commons that requires many stakeholders to work together to avoid free riding, instead of making this a diplomatic battle where no one takes responsibility.

Who can do what?
- Regional public authorities, NGOs and the media can increase transparency over what's happening: what causes the haze? Who causes it? Why? What for?
- Consumers can make better choices (e.g., if palm oil plantations are responsible, let's boycott products with palm oil)
- Industry associations of companies with activities associated with the haze can proactively organize themselves to prevent these situations before they are forced to do it by fines, arrests or consumer pressure (e.g., the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil could play a role)
- Governments of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia can recognize the interdependence between the three neighboring countries and start framing this as a joint problem that requires collaboration, a "we mentality", towards joint problem solving and solutions that create value for everyone. The ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution may be a good framework to build on
- International institutions like the United Nations Environmental Programme could facilitate a stakeholder engagement process to bring parties together to find appropriate solutions, obtain commitment and enforce decisions
- Other ideas? Please share in the comments!

To learn more:
- 2-min BBC video: Singapore haze hits record high from Indonesia fires
- National Environmental Agency: Haze updates, including Google Earth files with satellite images and locations of fires
- PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) 24-hour readings (in chart here)
- Ministry of Health's "FAQs on haze and your health"
- Humorous creations inspired by this sad situation: a collection of images, and Alvin Oon's songs All I Ever See Is Haze and Haze So Susah

If you understand Portuguese (from Portugal) you may enjoy this (it illustrates exactly how we are feeling!):

Hold your breath...

Um comentário:

  1. If someone lasts to tell the story, it's not going to be in Singapore...
    Vá respire fundo, vá...