Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Transboundary Haze as a Human Health Issue in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and Member State Responses

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: McKinley, Mezzanine Level

Haze has been a serious problem in Southeast Asia for decades. Originating largely from fires in Indonesia, the smoke travels across borders affecting up to six Southeast Asian states almost annually. Haze contains fine particles which irritate the eyes and penetrate the lungs. As a result, scores of Indonesians, Malaysians, and Singaporeans suffer from respiratory, dermatological, and ophthalmological problems. These health risks, together with reduced visibility, have also caused tourist numbers to drop dramatically. This chapter observes that government worked hard to protect and maintain their tourism sectors in the face of the haze. The main tactic used was to underrepresent the health risks of haze, both to citizens and tourists. As a result, regional governments failed to recognise the haze as a serious public health issue. At the national level, states often under-report health effects in the attempt to keep tourism levels stable. At the regional level, member states have yet to agree on a common ASEAN-wide regional air quality measurement system, with many continuing to use a system that tends to underrepresent health risks. At the international level, affected states have been quick to debunk research that indicates higher levels of mortality. As a result, citizens lacked the knowledge and urgency to make wise health and wellbeing decisions during haze episodes. Sustainable development involves economic growth balanced with social development and environmental sustainability. However, the case of the haze shows that Southeast Asian states still find it challenging to balance these elements in the spirit of sustainable development.

Helena Varkkey

University of Malaya, Not Applicable, Malaysia

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