HARD COPY: If rhetoric could banish the haze …

HARD COPY: If rhetoric could banish the haze … 

18 August 2005

publishedby www.nst.com.my

PEOPLE have grown very cynical. Some are even suggesting an annual “Smoke- gets-in-your-eyes day” following the latest haze episode — something along the lines and in the same spirit as the ridiculous “Bring-your-pet-to-work day” in some parts of America.

No, this is not an attempt to trivialise a burning issue. But it reflects a deep frustration. Everyone seems to have just grown tired of all the talk, pledges and promises about ending the haze that seem to have come to nothing.

Some daily news reports have even begun adopting a rather sneering tone — like the one from Reuters filed from Jakarta by their correspondents Achmad Sukarsono and Jerry Norton last week. Their intro was: “If rhetoric could douse fires, the haze that haunts Southeast Asia, endangering health, travel and tourism, would have disappeared in the late 1990s”.

I thought that was great.

At this stage, however, it’ll be useful to look back at some of the things that have been said about the haze over the years. They can be both amusing or annoying. And I leave it to the readers to form their ownconclusions:

• Sept 16, 1997: “To the communities of neighbouring countries which have been disturbed by the fires in our territory, Indonesia offers its most sincere apologies.” — President Suharto, opening the 7th Asian Ministerial Meeting on the Environment in Jakarta.

• Aug 8, 2005: “I am sorry. The haze has become more acute for our neighbours in Malaysia and we are truly sorry for this.” — Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoeler.

• Oct 8, 1997: “There is no strain in ties between Indonesia and neighbouring countries because there is a mutual understanding between Asean countries. Don’t assume that we have intentionally done something without bearing any responsibility.” — Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, commenting on the forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo that have been blamed for the haze across Southeast Asia.

• Oct 6, 1997: “Indonesia will ensure that the haze will not recur in later years. Otherwise, we are all out of business.” — Indonesian Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja.

• Dec 23, 1997: “It is a big achievement. Previously, we talked about trans-boundary pollution. Now we have a specific plan on haze.” — Science, Technology and Environment Minister Datuk Law Hieng Ding after the Asean Ministerial Meeting on Haze in Singapore. (Under the Haze Action Plan, Malaysia was to play the lead role and co-ordinator of measures aimed at achieving the first of three primary objectives — to prevent land and forest fires through better management policies and enforcement. Singapore would take charge of the establishment of operational measures to monitor land and forest fires, while Indonesia was to oversee efforts to strengthen the regional fire-fighting capability.)

• Dec 15, 1997: “What is important is that we now have an memorandum of understanding. This gives us the will to look for methods by which we can implement practicable measures beneficial to both sides.” — Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, after signing an MOU with Indonesia to deploy the military for joint disaster relief efforts, including fighting haze.

• Dec 11, 1997: “We will work together.” — Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Co-ordinating Board chairman Azwar Anas after signing an MOU with Malaysian counterpart Datuk Mohamed Rahmat allowing the two countries to work together to tackle the haze problem and manage any other form of disasters.

• Dec 11, 1997: “We have imposed a total ban on all slash-and-burn activities under amendments to environmental regulations to prevent forest fires and haze. Even owners of small farms and estates cannot clear land by burning.” — Indonesian Co-ordinating Minister for People’s Welfare, Azwar Anas.

• Dec 2, 1997: “The National Haze Technical Committee should look into ways to curb internal sources of air pollution instead of focusing on external factors.” — Science, Technology and Environment Minister Datuk Law Hieng Ding.

• Nov 12, 1997: “The artificial rain and cyclone created by the technology is capable of clearing a high volume of haze over a sizeable area.” — Datuk Law Hieng Ding, announcing the use of Russian satellite technology which can create artificial cyclones and rain to help clear the haze in future.

• Oct 1, 1997: “Warnings of stern action are falling on deaf ears as villagers and workers continue to burn forests, especially at night to evade detection by local authorities. Although the locals and their families are aware of the health hazards of the haze, such concerns are usually set aside for short-term economic gains. They play a hide-and-seek game with the authorities. They emerge at dusk to light up a pile of wood before disappearing. When forestry officials do appear, they offer to help to put out the fires. But once the authorities are gone, they are back to their tricks.” — NST journalist Marhalim Abas in a report filed from Jambi, Central Sumatra:

• Sept 20, 2000: “It is necessary to amend the by-laws to make the installation of rooftop water sprinklers on high-rises compulsory and this should be backdated to include existing buildings. A draft was completed a month ago and has been sent to the Attorney-General’s Chambers.” — A Kuala Lumpur City Hall spokes- man.

• July 22, 2000: “We will take to court companies which set fires to clear forest lands. This is to give a lesson to delinquent companies so that they will be scared to burn forest land in future.” — Indonesia’s Environment Minister Sonny Keraf.


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