SINGAPORE (Nov 19): In 2015, Didier Bélot experienced the choking, transboundary haze that engulfed Singapore first-hand. Bélot is Southeast Asia head of Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, the commercial insurance arm of reinsurer Swiss Re. “It was an unpleasant experience. We issued warning memos to all of our staff that when the PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) reached a certain hazardous level, they were encouraged to work from home... I think a lot of employers were in the same situation,” he recalls in a recent interview with The Edge Singapore.

But the episode also set him thinking about the indirect economic impact of the haze on Singapore. “Did you see any destructive impact on our island nation? No… You don’t see buildings collapsing. But you still see an unhealthy amount of economic losses. It’s just because businesses are slowing down. Customers are not going out anymore. You do suffer this kind of loss of income with no physical damage,” he says.

The 2015 haze is estimated to have cost Singapore about $700 million, according to the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources. A September 2018 report by the Swiss Re Institute puts this figure at US$897 million, more than twice that of the 1997 transboundary haze. The bulk of losses are in the tourism segment (see table). Yet, it remains difficult for tourism-related businesses to insure against haze-related losses, because of the absence of visible damages, Didier observes.

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