SINGAPORE – ASEAN environment ministers have brought forward by two months a meeting to tackle the smog hanging over parts of the region from forest fires in Indonesia, a Singapore official said yesterday. “The AMMH (Asean Ministerial Meeting on the Haze) will be held sometime at the end of the month,” a Ministry of Environment spokesman told Reuters, adding that the actual date is being discussed.
Ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) had originally agreed they would next meet in Singapore in October.
Environmental sources said the meeting was moved up because of raging fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, on the Indonesian side of Borneo island, which clouded the skies over parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
Satellite images recently suggested the situation was similar to two years ago as Indonesian fires were not being put out and experts expect the problem to linger for two to three months.
Singapore’s Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) on July 30 touched 100, a point away from levels considered “unhealthy”.
Environment Minister Lee Yock Suan told state TV he hoped greater attention by authorities to the problem would lead to improvements and prevent fires from burning uncontrollably.
“The Indonesian authorities have also given their pledge to disallow open burning to clear land. Unfortunately, at the ground level, the implementation has not been up to expectations,” he was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
On Monday, Indonesian President B.J. Habibie called for action to stop the forest fires and warned of an environmental disaster if the problem was left unchecked.
Indonesian forest fires in 1997 shrouded Southeast Asia for months with health-threatening smog and seriously hurt the tourism industry.
At their last meeting, ASEAN ministers unveiled an urgent plan to stop the forest fires. The plan included education, fire prevention, fire-fighting and surveillance techniques.
The ministers from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore and officials from other ASEAN countries said a zero-burning policy was now in force region-wide. ASEAN also comprises Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.