Never before in history do we ever see so many summit meetings taking place in almost all continents of this turbulent, tumultuous, difficult and uncertain world almost at the same time, or continuously.
Nearer home, it is time again for the ASEAN summit now being held in Indonesia.
It must have on its agenda the climate change, which is at its worst ever now, as well as the much feared transboundary haze or smog pollution due to unchecked burning at this time of the year, especially in Indonesia.
It is without doubt that the health of the people is being compromised.
The battered global economy and the threat from the new Covid-19 sub-variant have been causing hardships to all with no exception, in particular the low-income groups.
Not only is the mental health of practically everyone much affected, so is the attitude of people. It is an unhappy situation.
Extreme climate change has had a drastic domino effect on everything at this worst of times.
In our rather difficult and complicated world, if countries should ever meet whenever there is a crisis, I think this is the right time! Now, not tomorrow!
This is not a political crisis, but a life-threatening health crisis!
The is the right time because there is again the most serious threat to the health and well-being of each and every citizen of countries in the ASEAN region, not just Indonesia or Malaysia, but also Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, the Philippines, Brunei and Singapore. No country is being spared, as it is surrounded by the problematic neighbors.
The much-dreaded transboundary haze/smog is giving warning that it is very much here. Haze or smog pollution has become our common enemy, right in front of us!
If the transboundary haze/smog is left unchecked, all ASEAN countries will suffer, even green Singapore.
Cities like Bangkok and Jakarta have always been known for serious pollution, with pollutant levels constantly breaking records. Their citizens must have been suffered in silence all these years!
Babies and young children, senior citizens, pregnant women, the sick and the disabled, especially those suffering from heart and lung problems, are particularly vulnerable to haze or smog brought about by the burning of the rain forests during the annual land clearing for oil palm plantations by multi-million corporations and small farmers alike.
ASEAN countries must take this recurring problem more seriously this time as they have met a few times over the years, but unfortunately it appears that no concrete and firm action has been taken at all.
This ASEAN summit must not only talk, but adopt a firm stand against transboundary haze. This recurring problem must be solved once and for all!
A definitive action is certainly in order. An action that will produce satisfactory and effective results is all that the citizens of the affected countries would ask for. No more and no less.
Many countries have laws governing pollution and burning, but enforcement seems to be an insurmountable task, especially in developing or underdeveloped countries.
So, this issue must be addressed seriously and solutions found.
There is no point for all the pleasantries expected at these meetings, but a serious joint effort must be made to tackle this health issue by means of a treaty which will make enforcement mandatory and which will deter people from committing acts detrimental to human health and the struggling economy of these countries.
Happiness or appreciation, displeasure or anger is often expressed on the ballot box.
As elections are expected in these countries, deeds and not mere words do speak volumes for all parties aspiring to win the elections at every level.
I am confident that Singapore, Malaysia together with the new Indonesian government and other economic powers will be able to play a key role in gradually making the recurrent pollution problem a thing of the past.
Open burning is largely unheard of in Singapore, and pollution is well under control with the stringent measures in place, but the country has done a significant job as a good neighbor to help others.
(Datuk Seri Ang Lai Soon is Sarawak social activist, philanthropist, founder of St John’s Ambulance Sarawak.)