Regional efforts to combat haze making headway

Updated On: Nov 14, 2006

Environment ministers from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, as part of the sub-regional Ministerial Steering Committee on the haze problem, met in Cebu, Philippines on November 9 for the 10th Asean Ministerial Meeting on Environment, a day before the 5th Asean Plus Three Environment Ministers Meeting.

The meeting yielded the endorsement of Indonesia's plan of action in dealing with the haze, which allows Asean countries to adopt one or more fire-prone districts/regencies for enhancing capacity to deal with land and forest fires. Other measures include encouraging small farmers to abandon slash- and-burn agriculture and use other greener methods to clear land, providing incentives for small farmers to abandon slash-and-burn agriculture, and creating more effective enforcement against errant plantation and logging companies. Singapore in particular, announced it would team up with authorities in Jambi province, central Sumatra to fight haze-producing fires there. Indonesia’s plan of action is scheduled to be tabled at the 12th Asean Summit next month in Manila.

The Asean Haze Fund also received an early boost with Singapore and Indonesia pledging to contribute US$50,000 (S$78,000) each. Ministers from Brunei,Malaysia and Thailand also signed the agreement but said their contributions to the fund were subject to approval back home. Other Asean countries will contribute according to their capabilities, Philippine Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes said. 'This is an attempt to jump-start the entire thing, and hopefully international cooperation and support would be forthcoming,' he added. Indonesia's Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar mentioned that his country will need around US$60 million every year for firefighting and prevention, as well as include the cost of infrastructure projects to irrigate highly combustible dry peatlands, a major cause ofIndonesia's fires.

Coupled with Singapore’s strong moves to forward action on the Asean Haze Fund and fire-fighting efforts in Indonesia is the country’s reiterative position that international help is needed to bolster regional efforts to resolve the haze crisis, especially with a long dry season expected next year. Dr Amy Khor, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, told The Straits Times the view was also expressed by a number of ministers from other haze-affected countries. 'Indonesia has done what it can but I think it is clear now that Asean is not able to effectively resolve the problem alone,' she said.Philippines' Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes, echoed that 'any support or assistance from the international community will be most welcome...We want international help.'

While Indonesia earlier expressed unhappiness at Singapore’s move to raise the haze issue at the UN General Assembly around three weeks ago, the Ministerial Meeting on the Environment also saw the endorsement of organising a high-level international conference next month in Indonesia to attract international donor agencies and multilateral organisations such as the Asian Development Bank. Asean’s dialogue partners – ChinaJapan and South Korea – may be roped in as well for support. A senior member of the Asean Secretariat reported that 'we expect the 'plus three' will consider supporting this issue.'


Asean countries choked by haze to help Indonesia deal with forest fires (AP/The Straits Times, 10 November 2006)

Five Asean countries approve anti-haze plan (The Straits Times, 10 November 2006)

Outside help to fight haze? (TODAY, 11 November 2006)

S'pore among first to give to haze fund (The Straits Times, 12 November 2006)