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Efforts in tackling forest fires and haze problems in Indonesia

Updated On: Aug 21, 2007

Transboundary haze pollution that occurs regularly in the Southeast Asian region originates mainly from forest and peat fires in Indonesiaand some parts of Malaysia.

Last year, haze began to spread to Indonesia’s neighbors particularly Singaporeand Malaysiain August and reached its worst peak in October, when the PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) reading breached the unhealthy mark. This year, Singaporeans can still breathe easy and the haze is not yet noticeable not because the underlying causes of haze have been solved, but because of the generally favorable wind conditions and the unpredictable weather pattern. 

Singaporeand Malaysiaare keen in giving support to Indonesiain tackling the haze problem. According to Mr. Heddy S. Mukna, Assistant Deputy Minister for Forestand Land Degradation Control of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment, Malaysiaand RiauProvinceare in the process of signing an MoU and Singaporeand JambiProvincewill be signing the Letter of Intent next month. Singaporewill provide inputs, resources and other forms of support to Jambi under a comprehensive anti-haze master plan for JambiProvince. The livelihood of poor farmers who depend completely on unsustainable agricultural practice is one of important issues that was raised in the Regional Haze Dialogue, organized by SIIA on Monday, Aug 20. Singaporewill help small type farmers who clear land using fires to explore other alternatives such as ecotourism and fishing.

In his presentation, Mr. Mukna highlighted Indonesia’s efforts in combating the fires and haze over the past one year. Much has been achieved, but certainly it is still not enough to solve the problems that have accumulated over a long period of time.  More time and resources, and most importantly, political will, and pressure from local and regional communities and NGOs need to be sustained, for many of the related problems such as lack of coordination among government agencies, etc, to be solved.

In the dialogue, participants also raised concern over large plantation companies who are still burning land and forest areas, although the practice is illegal in Indonesia. Some called for action from Singaporean and Malaysian governments to help Indonesia, whose law enforcement is weak, to possibly prosecute the perpetrators in the countries where some of the plantation companies are based.

This year’s dialogue also discussed the linkages between haze and global warming. If carbon emissions from deforestation including forest fires are taken into account, Indonesiais the world’s third largest emitter of carbon gas, after US and China, with around 3 billion tones of CO2 annually. The dry season resulting from climate change phenomenon has increased the intensity of fires significantly, and the fires and haze in turn release huge amount of greenhouse gases, which cause the global warming.

Because of the links between deforestation and global climate change, Indonesiamay be able to benefit from the UN-scheme called REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation), which rewards countries that preserve their forests. The parties to the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) are expected to agree upon rules and regulations on this scheme in their next meeting in December this year in Bali.

Some experts attending the Dialogue also highlighted that the haze issue is not merely an environmental problem, but really a broader socio-economic and security issue.

Mr Mukna also told Straits Times that Indonesiawould ratify the ASEAN Haze Agreement next year. However, how effective the agreement will deter Indonesiafrom burning its forest and land, remains questionable since the agreement does not provide for sanctions to be applied to Indonesiaif there is non-compliance. But at least, it is a good platform which ASEAN members can use to work hand-in-hand to tackle such important issue of forest fires and global warming within the ASEAN framework. (21 August 2007)

Sources:

Haze fight: S'pore to work with slash- and-burn farmers (Straits Times, 18 August 2007)

Fires, haze - the global implications (Straits Times, 21 August 2007)

Asean urged to muster political will to deal with forest fire haze (Straits Times, 20 August 2007)

'Lack of coordination' hurting anti-haze efforts (Straits Times, 21 August 2007)

What can be done to minimize the haze in South East Asia? (Radio SingaporeInternational, 20 August 2007)

Are Indonesia's plans to prevent haze enough? (Today, 21 August 2007)

Regional Haze Dialogue works on new strategies to fight climate change(Channel News Asia, 20 August 2007)