At the UN Global Business Summit for the Environment (B4E) in Singapore last week, more than 600 executives and environment experts discussed, among other issues, the ongoing problem of Southeast Asia’s transboundary haze pollution.
According to deputy CEO of Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) Loh Ah Tuan, the haze is “not just an environment problem…It is a social, political and economic problem. And if we try to force an environment solution to a problem such as this, I don't think we can get an answer.”
Elsewhere, Raman Letchumanan, head of the environment and disaster management unit at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretariat, concurred that "this is a livelihood issue... it is a fight against tradition and poverty."
Loh also revealed that the master-plan drafted by Singapore to assist central Sumatra may be ready as early as next month. The masterplan covers fire prevention and suppression, legislation and enforcement, early warning and monitoring, and regional and international collaboration.
Preliminary work is also under way in the Muaro Jambi district of Jambi province to deal with the problem. NEA has organised workshops to try and bring farmers and plantations together to define the problems. Several big plantation owners are also already on board, sharing knowledge and expertise in areas that include fire prevention.
If the plan – following a "grassroots" approach – is successful, the model could be duplicated in other parts of Jambi, and complement other measures taken by the Indonesian government.
Results however, Loh added, can only be achieved in a few years' time, especially with Jambi's forestry chief, Budidaya’s reminder that Jambi alone has a total land area of 5.1 million hectares (13 million acres), with 2.2 million hectares of forest.
Companies have also come on board to combat the haze problem. For example, the Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL), spends US$1,000 (S$1,520) per hectare in first developing the land, including dealing with the highly combustible peatlands. Another US$100 to US$300 and one to three days were used to clear each hectare mechanically.
Brad Sanders, head of fire safety at Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL), said companies should be willing to spend money to clear the land instead of using a slash-and-burn method. At present, Sanders pointed that more resources are vital to develop abilities to detect and respond 'while the fires are small...before they even surface as hot spots'.
Another dimension of the haze problem was also raised at the Global Business Summit, as scientists argued that the gas emitted by the haze could help accelerate global warming, especially from peatland fires, with the increasing usage of such lands vis-à-vis the 1997-98 episodes.
Experts also say that Southeast Asia has 60 percent of the world's tropical peatlands, and Indonesia's peat swamps contain 21 percent of the earth's land-based carbon. Unless action is taken, that carbon could become greenhouse gas in 40 years. (23 April 2007)
Haze: Masterplan to stop fires ready soon (The Straits Times, 21 April 2007)
No Easy Solution to Indonesian Haze Problem: Experts (AFP, 21 April 2007)