ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Forest burning on Asean agenda
With several weeks left in Indonesia’s dry season, the number of hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan so far this year has hit 17,000 — more than double the total last year.
Revealing the figure on the sidelines of an Asean meeting in Bangkok on the haze situation on Friday, Singapore Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the number of hot spots indicates the size of the problem facing countries in the neighbourhood.
He said there were about 29,000 hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan in 2006. That, however, was an abnormally hot and dry ‘El Nino’ year.
Last year, there were 8,000 hot spots.
In a bid to put pressure on companies involved in what they termed “environmental vandalism,” ministers from five nations in the regional grouping agreed to make public satellite images of the burning forests to help identify and shame the culprits.
The fires which give rise to the haze are usually started by large oil palm plantation companies and by farmers clearing land for their fields.
Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei sent their environment ministers to the Transboundary Haze Pollution meeting. But Indonesia — where the haze originates — sent only its deputy minister, Arif Yuwono. Thailand was the other participant.
After the meeting, the ministers said there had been some progress in fighting the fires in Indonesia.
They pointed to successful cooperation in curbing fires and sustainable management of peat forest land, which is vulnerable to long-burning fires.
They also noted that Indonesia had set up standard operating procedures for national fire prevention and control.
But more could be done, they said.
Balakrishnan, who chaired the meeting, said: “There is some progress. But there remains ... serious concern because of the implications on health, travel and the economy on a wider scale.”
“Transboundary haze is one example in which, unfortunately, the economic interests of the culprits responsible for starting these fires are not aligned with the interests of larger society,” he added.
The ministers also pointed out that the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which calls for cooperation in preventing and controlling the haze, has not been ratified by Indonesia.
In Indonesia’s defence, Arif said: “We just set up a task force on law enforcement, and now they are trying to identify all the companies that are breaking the law.”
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