Time to act on burning of forest areas

If air quality was ever to reach the headlines in a global way, it certainly has over the past seven days.

The almost annual burning of forest land in Sumatra is now a problem not only for Singapore and parts of Malaysia, but it is also a world problem.

While there will be a reluctance to interfere or offer advice, the grouping of South East Asian countries should at least put it on their agenda.

The politicians in the region are talking and Singapore’s prime minister has accepted an apology from the Indonesian president.

Now, however, there needs to be a plan of action to try and resolve the situation in the forests, not only for the prevention of future pollution episodes but to ensure that areas are preserved wherever possible in line with global compacts and local strategic plans for the forested areas.

Pressure can be brought over palm oil plantations with some in the West aware of the problems that despoliation of forests can bring because of the demand for palm oil. Alternatives are available and should be promoted. Furthermore, manufacturers need to look beyond the use of palm oil and adopt more sustainable substitutes wherever possible.

The seriousness of the situation extends first of all to those suffering from the forced breathing in of the pollutants and these people should not be forgotten. Apparently the masks help but a taste of the smoke in the air is still felt and it is clearly unacceptable that suffering in this way should result simply because others want to burn forest land.

Of course the local situation may well be out of control. Criminals are said to be involved or at least those taking part in the burning are acting without care or thought.

Strong political will and robust enforcement is needed to bring hope and improvement so that the region does not face future years with the likelihood of fires.

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