Sumatra burns

 

Sumatraburns

The Straits Times, 13 June 2003


As this satellite image shows, some large fires with smoke plumes more than 20km long are raging in the Riau province. While wet weather could help douse the fires this year, ASEAN nations must address the haze problem for the long term. SHARMILPAL KAUR reports.THE many fires burning in Sumatra’s Riau province will go on for months, say fire-fighting experts based in Indonesia.
Some of them are quite large, said Dr Peter Moore, coordinator of Project FireFight SouthEast Asia, which was started in 2000 by the World Conservation Union and the nature conservation body, WWF.
‘For the last three weeks in Riau and parts of Kalimantan, fires have been lit deliberately and allowed to burn without much control,’ he said.
As this satellite image shows, some large fires with smoke plumes more than 20km long are raging in the Riau province. While wet weather could help douse the fires this year, Asean nations must address the haze problem for the long term. — CRISP, NUS He is worried that this will set the pattern for the next few months.
Already, they are affecting plantations and public health.
Alerted by the growing spread of hot spots showing up on satellite images, the National Environment Agency (NEA) wrote to its Indonesian counterpart last month and again this month to ‘express concern over the increase in fire activities and requested the Indonesian authorities to step up their efforts to deal with the fires’.
Indonesia has assured Singapore of its continuing efforts to suppress these land and forest fires, the NEA told The Straits Times.
Though the haze has thickened over Sumatra, Singapore has experienced only low-level winds and they are not blowing the haze here, the NEA said.
Some haze, it warned, is common during the dry spell between next month and September.
This year, the weather could well prove an ally.
Instead of El Nino, a weather phenomenon that brings dry conditions, the indications are that a weak – and wet – La Nina phenomenon could arrive in the area over the next six months.
‘The weather this year is expected to be wetter than that of last year,’ said an NEA spokesman.
That rainy weather, if it does come, could help to douse fires this year but, still, the haze problem needs to be addressed for the long term.
This seasonal hazard comes about because small-holders, subsistence farmers and plantation owners purposely set fires to clear land to prepare it for planting.
To them, Dr Moore said, it is just a straightforward way to clear the land.
They don’t understand how badly it affects trans- port, tourism, health and the economy, he added.
Poverty, bad land use, conflicting laws and weak fire prevention and management only complicate matters.
Laws do exist but are largely not enforced. So they are not the solution, he said.
It would be better for Indonesia to get help from its neighbouring countries to address the underlying causes, especially since many of the burning activities carried out in Indonesia are partly or fully under the control of companies based outside it.
The regional grouping ASEAN has already recognised the need for its 10 members to work together. It put together haze action plans in 1995 and 1997. The haze was at its worst in 1997.
Last June, Asean brought about an agreement on transboundary haze. This requires member nations to pursue national, regional and international actions to prevent and control burning that may result in haze.
The ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution is due to come into effect 60 days after being ratified by six nations. So far, it has been ratified by only five – Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Indonesia is glaringly absent from that list.
The Indonesian environmental think-tank, Pelangi, doubts that having Indonesia ratify the agreement would solve the problem.
Pelangi’s executive director, Dr Agus P. Sari, pointed out that the treaty, being based on the principles of cooperation and non-interference, lacks bite to enforce action against a member that violates it.
Like Dr Moore, he believes that Indonesia needs to solve its domestic problems first. The treaty is not likely to be a help any time soon, he thinks, though it could help a little to solve the problems.
He said: ‘The ASEAN agreement would probably be effective in about three to five years – if we’re lucky.’


Back

WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien