Via The New York Times: Southeast Asia, Choking on Haze, Struggles for a Solution. Excerpt:
Savir Singh’s taxi rolled into downtown Singapore, taking an overpass that provides a stunning view of the popular hotels and tourist attractions around Marina Bay.
The only problem was that he could barely see them. Thick haze from forest fires set in neighboring Indonesia to clear land for agriculture has blanketed this island state for weeks, and has spread to Malaysia and southern Thailand.
While many Singaporeans have sought refuge from the pollution in their homes, offices or shopping malls, Mr. Singh’s only haven is his mobile workplace, and a small bottle of eyedrops lying near his armrest.
“Look at this,” he said, pointing to the partly obscured Singapore Flyer, a 540-foot-tall Ferris wheel. “I wish they had haze in Jakarta. Then the government there would do something about it.”
Mr. Singh’s anger is part and parcel of a near-annual ritual: Fires set in Sumatra and the Indonesian side of Borneo blanket parts of Southeast Asia with smoke for weeks. While this has been going on for decades, an especially long dry season this year coupled with the effects of El Niño, threaten to make it the worst on record, scientists say.
Around the region, flights have been grounded, schools have been closed, and tens of thousands of people have sought medical treatment for respiratory problems, allergies, eczema and other ailments. The first night of an international sports competition, the FINA Swimming World Cup, set for last Saturday and hosted by Singapore, was canceled because of health concerns — as was a marathon in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysia capital, set to be run the next morning.
This year, there have been more vocal complaints from people affected in Singapore, Malaysia and even in Indonesia. There has also been high-profile sniping among government leaders, along with lawsuits, investigations and arrests of accused fire-starters — a familiar replay from 2013, when the region suffered its last major bout of haze.
After the skies cleared in 2013, the issue was once again forgotten — until last month, when the crisis erupted anew.
The consensus this year is the same as it was then: The slash-and-burn techniques used in Indonesia’s palm oil industry are continuing unabated, and there is no magic bullet for ending the practice — or the haze it causes — in the short term.