17August 2005

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Penang, Malaysia — The ASEANSenior Officials on the Environment (ASOEN) met on 16 – 17 August 2005 and asa matter of priority addressed the current fires and haze situation in theregion. The Senior Officials viewed with concern the fires in North Sumatra andRiau Provinces which caused serious smoke haze pollution in Sumatra, parts ofPeninsular Malaysia and Southern Thailand. The air quality deteriorated tohazardous levels and haze emergency was declared in Port Klang and KualaSelangor in Malaysia.

Indonesia reported that the smoke haze is mainly caused by land fires,particularly on peatland. The Senior Officials recognised the difficulty ofmitigating such peatland fires, and fires which occur in remote locations.

Indonesia has mobilised 1,000 personnel comprising forest rangers, ManggalaAgni fire-brigades, army, police, NGOs and forest concessionaires. Indonesiainformed that the fires are now under control. Notwithstanding this, Indonesiaremains vigilant for any future outbreak of fires and would welcome assistanceto mitigate fires especially from ASEAN Member Countries.

ASEAN Member Countries, guided by the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary HazePollution, activated bilateral and regional mechanisms to exchange informationand mobilise resources to deal with the situation.

Malaysia offered assistance to Indonesia and subsequently mobilised 100fire-fighters and equipment, 25 SMART (Special Malaysian Assistance Rescue Team)personnel, and is currently making arrangements for cloud seeding in theaffected areas. Besides sending coordinates of hotspots to Indonesia, Singaporehas provided high resolution satellite pictures to facilitate the identificationof fire sites. In addition, Singapore has offered an aircraft to Indonesia toassist in its cloud seeding operation. Thailand is ready to provide anyassistance as may be requested. Viet Nam has offered to send 15 fire-fightersand equipment. The other ASEAN Member Countries are also considering providingassistance to mitigate the fires.
The ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) forecasts that drier weatherconditions with below average rainfall can be expected in parts of Sumatra andBorneo from now to October 2005. The prevailing winds will continue to transportany smoke haze to the region should fires occur in the area.

In light of the drier conditions, the Senior Officials stressed the need toremain vigilant and undertake measures to mitigate the fires includingmobilising more resources expeditiously.

The Senior Officials also recognised the importance of long-term preventivemeasures as provided in the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Inthis respect they resolved to further disseminate and implement preventivemeasures such as monitoring, enforcement, zero burning and controlled burningpractices.

To further enhance the existing regional mechanism, the ASEAN EnvironmentMinisters agreed to establish a Panel of ASEAN Experts on Fire and HazeAssessment and Coordination. The Panel will undertake rapid assessment of thesituation on the ground during critical periods of fires and haze, and providerecommendations to facilitate immediate response and effective mobilisation ofresources in the region. Pursuant to the decision, the Senior Officials have atthis Meeting set up the Panel.

The Senior Officials reiterated the need for stringent enforcement actionsagainst errant parties who set fires indiscriminately.  In this respect,the Senior Officials noted the enforcement actions taken against errant partiesby Indonesia. The Senior Officials also welcomed full disclosure and sharing ofinformation on errant parties.


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