It HAS been well over a decade now that we have been blighted by haze caused by open burning in large plantations in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia.
Our lives have suffered tremendously through illnesses caused by these conditions.
Even the healthiest of individuals have suffered from burning eyes and sore throat as well as respiratory conditions caused by breathing in this smoke.
As for those who already suffer from ailments like asthma, their predicament has become even more dire.
Malaysians and Singaporeans, who are the most affected by the haze besides Indonesia, are angry and upset with this seemingly never-ending cycle year after year, as a result of companies in Indonesia which practise slash-and-burn techniques to clear land.
This year, the Indonesian authorities have done the unprecedented – taking legal action against companies identified as being responsible for the haze.
So far, Indonesia has ordered four companies to suspend operations for allegedly causing the forest fires which created the haze. It has also frozen the permits of three oil palm plantation companies and revoked the licence of a forestry company.
This was after they launched investigations on more than 200 companies suspected of this practice.
The Indonesian authorities have also gone on record to state that among the companies they are investigating are Malaysian and Singaporean business entities but have declined to name them.
Hazarding an educated guess, I reckon these are large corporations, probably with a proven track record in corporate social responsibility. I am sure they communicate through websites, annual reports and other marketing communications material.
What appals me is that while they spew forth on how they conduct their businesses in a sustainable manner, their actions have been to the contrary.
By their actions, they have shown no regard for the lives of the millions of people they are negatively affecting around South-East Asia.
The action of the Indonesian authorities are laudable. Their decision to take a firm stand against these companies has to be followed up with the necessary action to show zero tolerance for these companies.
However, other countries have their role to play as well.
We cannot just say that this is Indonesia’s problem, since it is affecting all South-East Asian nations, and also as the perpetrators come from other South-East Asian countries besides Indonesia.
In this regard, Asean has a huge role to play in working out a plan to combat transnational haze.
Nations need to sit together and come up with laws which can be enacted across all Asean nations which show zero tolerance for environmentally degrading activities like slash-and-burn techniques.
We live in an age when climate change is one of the world’s greatest challenges and have come to recognise that for us to leave a planet worth living in for future generations, we need to halt all our unsustainable patterns of behaviour.
When we talk about sustainable business practices, slash-and-burn techniques for clearing land definitely falls within the kind of practice which is far from sustainable.
Our lives have become intolerable as a result of the haze.
Schools have to be closed down and our children’s education suffer as a result.
Venturing outdoors results in burning eyes and the breathing in of noxious fumes which lead to coughs and sore throats.
We cannot practise healthy lifestyles. Outdoor sports, swimming and children playing in the playground are no longer viable.
It is as if we are living in a post-apocalyptic world of our own making.
Since the corporations do not seem to have the conscience required to do the right thing, governments of South-East Asian countries must unite and do it for its citizens through Asean.
Sheila Stanley is a writer, TV producer and PR/media consultant based in Kuala Lumpur. She, along with everyone else, has been suffering through the haze. You can get in touch with her on Twitter @sheila_stanley or via e-mail at email@example.com.