Indonesia seeks Malaysia’s help to battle forest fires as smog returns
(15August 2004,Source: Agence France-Presse)
Kuala Lumpur (AFP)
Jakarta has renewed a call for Malaysia to stem the smuggling of illegal logs into the country as a spate of forest fires has caused a recurrence ofsmog in the region, officials and reports said Sunday. Indonesian Environment Minister Nabiel Makarim told the Sunday Star illegal logging was the main cause of fresh fires and said officers in his countrywere ill-equipped to fight the fires, especially in remote areas.
“Illegal logging, which results in the opening of forests, leaves the land more susceptible to fires,” he said.
“If the Malaysian government can help us block the flow of illegal logs from Indonesia into Malaysia, it will help us tremendously in reducingillegal logging and forest fires in the country.”
But Malaysia said the allegations were baseless and it was Jakarta’s duty to put out the fires, which it blamed for a return of the haze which hasblanketed parts of the country for a week now after a brief respite last month. “The claim that illegal logs are coming into Malaysia and are the cause of the current fires is unsubstantiated. The forest fires in Indonesia havenothing to do with Malaysia,” said natural resources and environment deputy minister S. Sothinathan. Malaysia’s environment department said early Sunday that air quality in Sri Aman town in Sarawak state has turned unhealthy while 38 out of 51 stationsnationwide showed moderate quality. Visibility in the capital Kuala Lumpur was about five kilometers (about three miles) but several northern towns and large areas in eastern Sarawakstate on Borneo island reported even poorer visibility, a meteorological department official said.
The situation may improve with rain expected in the next few days, and the number of hotspots falling to 28 in Indonesia’s Sumatra province and 25 inKalimantan late Saturday, she told AFP.
Malaysia refers to air quality as “good, moderate, unhealthy or hazardous” after banning the release of air pollution figures since 1997 for fear itmight drive away tourists and hurt the economy. The tourism sector is Malaysia’s second largest foreign exchange earner after manufacturing.
In 1997 and 1998, haze caused by Indonesian forest fires enveloped parts of Southeast Asia, including Malaysia for months, causing an estimated 9.3billion dollars in economic losses to the region due to serious health problems, traffic hazards and flight disruptions.