The officials at the press conference following the meeting (Photo: AFP/VNA)

Hanoi (VNA) – Environment officials of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand convened the 18th meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution in Singapore on May 4.

Singaporean Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Masagos Zulkifli, told the following press conference that the officials discussed key issues pertaining to haze prevention measures in the five MSC countries, including the implementation of the ASEAN Sub-Regional Haze Monitoring System, mobilisation of international assistance to support fire-fighting efforts, and exchange of information among countries.

Zulkifli said the biggest agreement during this meeting is that the countries will be going forward on sharing information.

During the meeting, the ministers also announced a plan to conduct a regional study on the economic, health and social impact of haze on the ASEAN region in 2015.

This study is believed to be crucial for ASEAN to assess the implication of the 2015 haze incident and enable countries to have baseline economic, health and social data to understand the impacts of transboundary haze.

The MSC countries also pledged to remain vigilant and continuously monitor and step up their haze preventive efforts to minimise any possible occurrence of trans-boundary smoke haze from land and forest fires in anticipation of the drier weather in the coming months.

The haze problem has been lingering around the region for decades, with air quality continuing to deteriorate in recent years.

Last year, haze has been going back and forth for over two months due to dry weather, making it one of the worst years for haze in the region.

Along with the environment issue, haze also causes huge economic losses. According to the World Bank, forest fires in Indonesia last year cost the country at least 16 billion USD in economic losses, equivalent to 1.9 percent of its gross domestic product. Meanwhile, haze also cost Singapore over 500 million USD in 2015.

According to the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre's forecast, normal to above normal rainfall can be expected for the region during the season as El Nino is expected to return to neutral conditions by mid-2016 and La Nina may develop in the third quarter.

This may "hopefully" lower the risk and severity of the haze problem this year, Zulkifli said.-VNA