PIYAPORN WONGRUANG — A new panel under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has been set up to help countries in Southeast Asia deal with the haze that has blanketed parts of the region, a senior environmental official said.
Supat Wangwongwattana, deputy chief of the Pollution Control Department, said a meeting of senior officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Malaysia, which ended yesterday, agreed to set up the panel to help put into practice the objectives under the agreement on transboundary haze pollution.
The panel would consist of regional experts, who would assess the immediate situation and provide recommendations to develop a proper response to the problem, Mr Supat said.
”It would be working more on an implementation level, something we have not had yet [under the accord],” he said.
Malaysia and Singapore on Tuesday called for a coordinated Southeast Asian response to the annual haze problem. Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the Asean agreement on haze must be translated into an action plan.
Countries in the region are still haunted by the spectre of the massive haze in 1997 when the dry conditions that resulted from the El Nino phenomenon, together with land-clearing practices, caused the second-largest forest fire disaster of the 20th century. More than 1,500 fires consumed over 300,000 hectares, mainly on the islands of Kalimantan and Sumatra, and generated intense smoke, which affected neighbouring countries for months.
In light of the events of 1997, Asean came up with an agreement on transboundary haze pollution, which took effect last year. But the agreement is seen as a loose document as it focuses on a cooperational approach among member states.
Over a week ago, Malaysia began to be affected by the haze from forest fires in Indonesia’s Sumatra Island.
The winds later shifted and brought the haze to the lower south of Thailand. This prompted officials in the country to call for more stringent measures.
The Asean Secretariat said senior officials have recognised the importance of long-term preventive measures as provided in the agreement and would further ”disseminate and implement preventive measures such as monitoring, enforcement, zero burning and controlled burning practices”.