The skies are now clear. The Russian planes leased by Indonesia to put out forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan have returned home.
But a question remains with the status of ongoing efforts to tackle the haze, upon which some researchers have predicted its more devastating return next year.
A report in the Straits Times on December 13 reported that Indonesia’s plans to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution have become caught in a ‘parliamentary maze’. While the agreement was submitted for ratification to Parliament earlier this year, the legislature deferred action and decided instead to set up a special committee to study the agreement last week - a move some believe could slow the ratification process.
The delay to ratify the haze agreement by Indonesia could pose a challenge for Jakarta to pool the much-needed resources – 585 billion rupiah (S$100 million) – to fight forest fires next year, especially in the light of extended dry season predictions. Present efforts to set up an ASEAN haze fund are currently weak with Indonesiaand Singapore pledging only US$50,000 (S$77,000) each.
Promising efforts to tackle the haze such as via the establishment of haze centres as joint emergency units involving Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are also contingent upon Jakarta’s ratification of the agreement.
A December 13 report in the Jakarta Post also noted that “not a single word on the haze can be found in any drafts of ASEAN declarations or statements” for the recently postponed ASEAN Summit. The author, Abdul Khalik, opined that such a development is surprising given the fact that the haze problem is so serious. But he also acknowledged Indonesia’s current ‘defensive and sensitive’ mood since displaying their displeasure at Singapore for bringing the haze issue to the UN.
Elsewhere, efforts to combat the haze still retain some promise. Singapore is embarking on its plan to assist Jambi province in preventing forest and land fires. Jakarta will also host a haze conference next week involving at least 20 countries and donor organisations to raise funds for tackling the fires as well. There are also plans to introduce a system to enable police to confiscate land where burning occurs and to give cash incentives to small plantation holders to stop the slash-and-burn method that contributes to the haze.
Jakarta legislative roadblock clouds Asean haze agreement (The Straits Times, 13 December 2006)
Haze left off Cebu agendas (The Jakarta Post, 13 December 2006)
Russian planes complete mission of putting out forest fires (Antara, 13 December 2006)