Interview with Tan Yi Han, the Singaporean who travelled to get answers for the haze.

Interview with Tan Yi Han, the Singaporean who travelled to get answers for the haze.

The Online Citizen was invited to a seminar entitled “Uncloaking the Haze” conducted by Tan Yi Han just this week on Monday about issues that surround the annual haze which Singapore is subjected to every year from fires in Sumatra. Read the report of the seminar here

Tan Yi Han at the seminar, “Uncloaking the Haze”

We are thankful that Yi Han is willing to share with us on his reasons of making all the way to Malaysia and Indonesia and what he feels about the haze situation of Singapore.

Hi Yi Han! I was wondering while I listened to your speech, what really made you to go all the way to Malaysia and Indonesia to figure out what was the real reasons for the haze issue? 

I’m appalled that such a major problem has not been resolved after so many years, and so I wanted to find out for myself what is really going on and how we in Singapore can help.

Do you belong to any environmental group or any NGOs which is in link with such issues? 

I have been actively volunteering with ECO Singapore, a local NGO, and when I was in NUS, I was in SAVE, the NUS environmental club. We address issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss. Unfortunately none of the NGOs in Singapore seem to be tackling the haze issue head-on, even though haze and its causes are a major contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss.

What is your profession? Some asked about that because in the write up of your event, it seems that you’re just an ordinary Singaporean giving a seminar on the haze issue. 

I’m a Financial Consultant and my educational background is also unrelated (Engineering). I just feel strongly about the haze crisis and I believe I can play a part to stop it.

In the newspaper reports, much of the haze has been attributed to illegal burning of the vegetation. Do you think its legit to make this conclusion on the cause? 

Of the 3 burn areas that I visited, at least 2 were probably due to accidental fire as the burning occurred in the middle of a plantation that already had crops. Many farmers I talked to are already aware that fire can easily spread out of control during the dry season, and have stopped using fire to clear the land. Instead, they use herbicides or long parangs. If accidental fires are really a major contributor to the haze problem, then we need to rethink our strategy: catching all those responsible for starting fires will still not stop the haze.

In your words, what do you think is the main reason why the haze issue continue to persist in Sumatra? 

Most fires in Sumatra are from just one province: Riau. Much of Riau was once covered by peat swamp forests, which are too wet to burn. But in the past two decades, most of these peat swamp forests were cleared and drained to make way for plantations, especially paper and oil palm plantations. Dry peat is actually flammable, so during the dry season, fires can easily spread out of control, regardless of whether they were set deliberately or accidentally.

Have you shared your findings with anyone else apart from the people from the seminar. 

Besides the seminar, I’ve only shared with my friends. I want to emphasise that I’m not a trained investigator or expert, so my aim is just to present some of my observations which challenge our existing way of thinking and get people to start working together to hopefully do even more thorough investigations.

Do you have any life changing experience or new insights from a close up personal look at the fires from ground zero and do you have anything to share with Singaporeans on what you experienced there? 

The most impactful experience for me was meeting a family whose plantation was wiped out through no fault of their own – the fire had spread from neighbouring land. Yet, when we visited them, they received us so cheerfully and served us tea and nuts even though they hardly had enough food for themselves. It made me realise that the problems I face in my own life are nothing and that I should still face life with a positive attitude.

Is there anything you think Singapore could do to manage this issue apart from diplomatic interventions? Or Singaporeans if they are willing to chip in their efforts. 

Singapore can do more by providing developmental aid such as helping poor farmers to raise the water level on their farms. However, political issues may complicate the matter. From 2007 to 2009, Singapore collaborated with Indonesia to help implement anti-fire and anti-haze measures in Jambi province in Sumatra, but it only lasted 2 years and Indonesia did not renew the collaboration. If politicians cannot find a solution, then the people must find the solution. I am gathering a team of like-minded people to identify ways for the people of Singapore to help stop the haze. At this point, one contribution ordinary Singaporeans can make is to use less paper. Much of our paper, be it tissue paper or copy paper, comes from Indonesia, where the peat swamp forests are being cleared to satisfy our ever-increasing demand.

Would there be plans to further educate Singaporeans about the underlying issues which result in the haze. 

Definitely! However, we want to not only educate Singaporeans, but to give Singaporeans hope that we can stop the haze. Therefore, we want to identify ways Singaporeans can help. We want Singaporeans to realise that we are not helpless!

Will you consider going back to Sumatra for the same reasons again? Maybe to bring some interested Singaporeans over to take a look at the ground itself? 

I’ll love to do a more robust investigation on the fires in Sumatra. If so, I hope to send more Singaporeans there for this investigation so that they really feel the scale of destruction that is happening. By the time they return to Singapore, they will be full of drive and passion!


If you are interested in knowing more and discussing on what you can do about the annual haze situation at Sumatra, feel free to email Tan Yi Han at [email protected] to contact him.

We need more passionate and proactive Singaporeans like him to do something about our country and help out our neighbours around us. All the best to Yi Han’s future endeavours!

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