Haze on the horizon?

Haze on the horizon?

Source: The Straits Times, October 15, 2004

By Alexis Hooi and Radha Basu

El Nino’s reappearance in coming months may mean hazy skies if Aseananti-haze pollution laws are not ratified, enforced EXPECT drier conditions overthe next few months and early next year, brought on by a return of the El Ninoweather phenomenon.

It could bring with it hazy skies again if tough new Asean anti-hazepollution laws are not ratified and enforced, Asean environment ministerscautioned yesterday.

At the end of a two-day meeting here, the ministers from the 10-member groupagreed on the need to stay vigilant and step up preventive measures, even aschoking haze from forest fires clouded parts of Sumatra this week.

The El Nino, which strikes every few years or so, fans the fires set byIndonesian plantation owners to clear the land.

Confirming the ministers’ fears, associate scientist Chia Aik Song fromNational University of Singapore’s Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing andProcessing told The Straits Times that new fires – more than 80 hot spots onsome days – have flared up in South Sumatra in the past week.

For now though, Singapore has been spared. For most of the last two weeks,the Pollutants Standard Index (PSI) – which measures air quality on a scale ofzero to 500 – has stayed in the good to moderate range, reaching above the 60sonly on one day.

At yesterday’s press conference, Minister for the Environment and WaterResources Yaacob Ibrahim said that the environment ministers agreed it wasimportant for an Asean haze agreement to be ratified by all 10 member countries.

The Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which requires itssignatories to establish laws and administrative measures to prevent and controlactivities related to land and forest fires that could result in haze, came intoforce last year following the ratification by six Asean member countries.

But Indonesia, the main source of the haze, has yet to ratify the agreement,along with Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines.

Asean secretary-general Ong Keng Yong explained that Indonesia’s Parliamentis now deliberating the matter.

He said: ‘We are engaged in rather delicate diplomacy to persuade theparliamentarians in Indonesia to ratify this agreement.

‘But it is not something which anybody can dictate to the democratic processin Indonesia.’

Still, Dr Yaacob said the Indonesian authorities have already taken some verystrong action to deal with the problem, such as stepping up enforcement actionagainst companies which have set fires indiscriminately.

Following the outbreak of fires in June this year, Indonesian authoritiesinvestigated 17 plantation owners who were allegedly responsible for severaloutbreaks and have so far charged one Sumatra-based one, he said.

Said Dr Yaacob: ‘Indonesia’s successful prosecution of errant plantationowners will actually send a very strong signal to other companies.

‘So I just want to assure that we have taken some action.’

At the ministerial meeting, Asean members also discussed ways to enhancecooperation to face other transboundary environmental problems.

One project that has taken off is the setting up of an Asean EnvironmentFund.

Mr Ong said the environment fund will be based on similar Asean jointfinancing projects for cultural cooperation, science and technology.

How much money would go into the fund and by which countries had still to bedecided, said Mr Ong, but the general concept was to use the funds as seed moneyto attract the help of non-government organisations, which are increasinglyrequiring governments to co-fund projects as a show of commitment.



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