Indonesia: Haze unlikely to hit hard due to El Nino no-show

Hazeunlikely to hit hard due to El Nino no-show

(published by: The Straits Times,08 May 2004)

Clearskies are expected because the El Nino phenomenon, which worsens the seasonalhaze, is not expected to occur in the next 3-6 months.

SINGAPOREwill see mostly clear skies in the coming months as the haze is notlikely to make a strong comeback this year. Thereason is that the El Nino phenomenon, which worsens the haze, isn’t expectedto make an appearance in the next three to six months.

El Ninobrings dry conditions that aid the forest fires set by Indonesian plantationowners to clear the land. Periodically,choking haze from such fires smother the region. The worst episodeshere were in 1994 and 1997, when El Nino was particularly strong.

Areassuch as Kalimantan and South Sumatra in Indonesia will experience theirusual dry season between May and September, an Environment Ministry spokesmantold The Straits Times. She said:”Occasional slight to moderate haze, usually limited to a few days, isnot uncommon for Singapore during the period.” SaidNational University of Singapore (NUS) geography lecturer David Higgitt:”Ultimately, weather conditions will have a strong influence on thenumber and severity of fires in the region.”

Theperiod between May and September is often hot, dry and hazy, with reliefsetting in only in late September with the onset of the North-east Monsoon.

NUS lawlecturer Alan Tan, who has been researching the Indonesian forest firesfor eight years, said: “Fire has always been used to clear land in theregion, and it continues to be so up till today.” “Itis only because the winds have not blown the resulting smoke to Singaporethat we have largely escaped the haze in the last few years.” “Also,the prolonged drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon has passed.” Prof Tansaid there was little Singapore could do directly, since the sourceof the haze is outside the country.

Butefforts such as 2002 Asean Haze Agreement, which is now in force, have beenlauded by Asean governments as a tool to improve the situation over time. The planis to set up an Asean Coordinating Centre which will harness, mobiliseand coordinate existing resources. Theagreement requires its signatories to establish laws and administrative measuresto prevent and control activities related to land and forest fires thatcould result in haze.

Theyalso have to work on a regional and international platform to assess andmonitor the forest fires and the resulting pollution. The aim of this is tostop the fires as soon as they develop, so that less haze is generated. ButIndonesia, the main source of the haze, has yet to ratify the agreement. SaidProf Tan: “Given Indonesia’s huge role in the fire and haze problems of thelast few decades, the agreement makes very little sense without Indonesia’sacceptance.” 

Far frombeing an instant solution, the agreement emphasises mutual cooperation,monitoring and assistance in the event that a state needs help to fightforest fires. It isstill up to the state that generates the haze to take its own measuresto combat forest fires and prevent the haze from affecting other countries. 

He said:’The agreement is silent on the important issue of violations and penalties.In this regard, the states’ undertaking to take effective action must beunderstood to include action against individuals and companies engagingin forest and land burning, and to mete out effective penalties againstthem.”Otherwise,the agreement loses all its effectiveness and promise.” With somuch resting on a country’s willingness to tackle the problem, havingan agreement does not in itself solve the problem.

Sincethe last major haze episode in 1997, Indonesia’s regions have become moreautonomous, making enforcement trickier for the central government, saidProf Tan. “Atthe same time, problems of illegal logging and land clearing continue to bereported by Indonesian non-governmental organisations, and the situationis probably a lot more complex today than in 1997 when the last serioushaze episode occurred. “Inother words, if another El Nino or prolonged drought situation arises, anotherserious occurrence of forest fires and haze cannot be ruled out.”


Story by: Sharmilpal Kaur


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