For the past week we've been reading about and seeing images of Singaporeans forced to deal with horrible air quality that is none of their doing. Citizens of the island-state are getting irate, and who can blame them? The smoke from fires raging in the Indonesian island of Sumatra is a health hazard and an extreme inconvenience to locals _ many have taken to wearing masks in an attempt to minimise the harmful health effects of the pollution. Elderly residents, children and pregnant women have been advised to avoid all outdoor activity.
It is also affecting tourism. On Friday, the Thai embassy in Singapore suggested that Thai citizens avoid travelling there after air pollution indicators soared to record heights for the third consecutive day. At midday on Friday the air pollution index hit a measurement of 401, topping the previous high of 371 recorded on Thursday. Numbers were back above 300 yesterday. Some airports in Sumatra have closed because of poor visibility and pollution levels that exceeded Singapore's, and in Malaysia nearly 600 schools were closed on Friday.
As an article in today's Spectrum makes clear, air pollution does not respect national boundaries, and in this fossil-fuel driven world there are few places that can claim to be blameless in its propagation. But the smoky skies in Singapore, parts of Malaysia and Sumatra itself can be chalked up to pure greed and stupidity. While, some of the fires may have been accidentally set by smokers or from cooking fires and so on, the big majority were intentionally set to clear land and burn off agricultural waste. While it may have been acceptable at one time, the slash-and-burn agricultural mentality should clearly be a thing of the past. Naturally this also applies to many parts of Thailand, especially in the North, where smoke often hangs heavy in the air in areas which are relatively pristine and that rely heavily on tourism. In this age of accelerating global warming caused mostly by greenhouse gases generated by the burning of fossil fuels, adding huge quantities of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by unnecessary agricultural burning is simply unacceptable, in Indonesia, Thailand or anywhere else.
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