Both countries slam the international community for not delivering on promised aid to fight forest fires
By Douglas Wong in Kuala Lumpur
MALAYSIA and Indonesia criticised the international community yesterday for not delivering on promised assistance to fight forest fires, but pledged to do “everything necessary” to prevent a recurrence of 1997’s severe haze problem in the region.
“They have promised us, but nothing is forthcoming,” Malaysia’s point man on the issue, Information Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Rahmat, said after a bilateral meeting on disaster assistance here yesterday.
“I believe that the 1997 haze will not recur because we are taking early action,” said the national disaster relief committee chairman, adding that “we are now 100 per cent prepared to face any problems”.
Indonesia’s Minister for People’s Welfare and Poverty Eradication Haryono Suyono said that his country had not expected the forest-fire problem in 1997 to “disturb our neighbours Malaysia and Singapore”.
“Now we are better prepared,” said the chairman of Indonesia’s national committee for disaster relief.
At the two-day meeting here, officials from both countries talked about joint exercises and operating details of fire-fighting which would avoid bureaucratic snarls that occurred in the past.
The haze of 1997 caused medical emergencies and closed schools and airports around South-east Asia.
Mr Haryono said Indonesia had two new approaches; a high-technology early-warning system to detect hot spots, and “eyes on the ground” in the form of academics and farmers who had been sent into the forests.
“These measures will allow us to watch the forests,” he said, adding that while Indonesia was better prepared, help was still needed.
“The donor community should come up with real help, come up with real action to help complement our efforts,” he said.
“Don’t just talk about it. Do something. They must show genuine efforts. But nevertheless we believe it is our problem,” Datuk Mohamed agreed.
International donors have pledged over US$8 million (S$13.6 million) for efforts to fight the haze, but half of this sum is from the United States for project studies rather than concrete measures. Separately, Malaysian Deputy Science, Technology and Environment Minister Datuk Abu Bakar Daud told Parliament yesterday that besides Johor, the current haziness was “below the dangerous level”.
KUALA LUMPUR — Fearing a recurrence of haze due to the current hot and dry weather, the Malaysian government has warned the public not to carry out open burning.
Minister of Science, Technology and Environment Datuk Law Hieng Ding said the Department of Environment had been directed to step up patrols and enforcement to check open burning and other forms of air pollution.
People should report to the department if they came across open burning, he said, after attending the weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
He added that the atmosphere was expected to become drier, favouring the development of slight haze in some parts of the country — “particularly the highly-urbanised areas where there are significant pollutant sources”. — Bernama
JAKARTA — Calls are mounting within Indonesia for quick government action to prevent a repeat of the haze that blanketed much of South-east Asia for months in 1997.
“This is an alert, we should not make the same mistakes as in the past years,” Mr Longgena Ginting of the leading Indonesian environmental watchdog Walhi said of the few hotspots already detected.
Mr Ginting, who coordinates Walhi’s forest-advocacy programme, said that in the past the government had reacted too late and too slowly to the fires, and by the time they had begun to address the problem, the fires were out of control.
“This time, we have also not seen any move from the government,” he said.
He said smoke from scrublands and forests set on fire for land-clearing operations in Sumatra had begun to cover the sky there and was drifting to neighbouring Singapore.
Mr Ginting added that the fires that raged in Indonesia from June 1997 to March last year had razed no less than 10 million ha of forest, and the resulting smoke disrupted transport and business, and caused health problems to some 30 million people.
Despite the heavy rains of the past days, smoke from forest and ground fires in Sumatra has already begun to affect visibility in parts of the island, said Mr Muhammad Helmi, who is the head of the Riau province Environmental Impact Control Agency.
The number of hotspots in Riau varied daily but averaged between 15 and 20 over the past three weeks, he said.
Mr Ginting also warned that unlike previous years, ‘forest fires this year will carry a larger dimension because they will take place when Indonesia is experiencing a multi-faceted crisis and while the nation is soon facing an election”.
Mr Adiwarsita Adinegoro, chairman of the the Association of Forestry Enterprises of Indonesia, was quoted by the Kompas daily as saying: “The fires can spread and the government should act quickly.
“If this is allowed to go on, the impact will be worse than the fires in the past years.” — AFP