As a cloud of pollution descends on Singapore, blown its way from the fires raging in Indonesia, the diplomatic skies are darkening. The tiny island-country is complaining about Sumatran farmers’ and plantation owners’ inclination to clear land cheaply by slash-and-burn methods. Indonesia has roughly – and rather rudely – told it to pipe down and stop behaving “like a child”.
But Singapore’s Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan is clear about the trauma being inflicted on his country.”This is now the worst haze that Singapore has ever faced,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “no country or corporation has the right to pollute the air at the expense of Singaporeans’ health and well-being.”
Quite so. But it is a reminder, albeit an acrid and unpleasant one, that we share a planet and countries need good neighbours just as much as they need to be good neighbours.
Singapore’s current troubles make it hard to believe that back in 2005, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Quality-of-Life Index ranked the island-country as number one in Asia and eleventh overall in the world. (The US was at number 13, the UK at 29, India at 73 and Haiti was second-last at 110.)
At the time, it trademark fashion, the EIU offered a lucid explanation for why it needed to develop a new index. It is based on a unique methodology that links the results of subjective life-satisfaction surveys to the objective determinants of quality of life across countries, it said. The nine quality-of-life factors included climate and geography, specifically latitude, to distinguish between warmer and colder climes. The Index used the CIA World Factbook for this.
There is little to be done about geography. But its neighborhood is making life harder for Singapore. One might almost feel sorry for this country of 63 islands, the world’s fourth-leading financial centre, with one of the five busiest ports in the world and the third highest per capita income.
Few in Singapore would be talking about quality of life at this point.