Asean needs to do more for clean air and health

Asean needs to do more for clean air and health 

5 October 2006

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ASEAN — More effort needs to be forthcoming from Asean member countries if the smoke haze problem in the region is to be managed, the Asean Secretary-General said.

Ong Keng Yong, in a phone interview, said the fires from land clearing activities in Indonesia and some parts of Malaysia were a regular and annual occurrence that was part of the traditional practice of preparing land for cultivation. These fires contribute to the smoke haze problem in the region, particularly during the dry season.

It was difficult to eradicate such activities completely, he continued. The ideal solution to the smoke haze problem would be to implement and enforce a zero-burning policy. Under this policy, “people would not be permitted to start any open fire, and there would be efforts to find other ways to clear land,” Mr Ong said.

The actual implementation of the policy on the ground was more complicated. Mr Ong point out that the local authorities currently had difficulty to carry out the zero-burning policy as they did not have all the necessary equipment and resources to do so.

“The zero burning policy requires local authorities to be given the equipment and resources, such as bulldozers and mechanised farming implements, to help clear the land so the farmers can carry out their cultivation in the next season without resorting to large-scale burning.”

Other inherent factors in the region also pose problems. Enforcement needed to be strengthened, but the sheer size of the countries involved made such measures difficult.

“The Indonesian authorities have assured us that they are doing their best with regard to enforcement,” Mr Ong said. However, Indonesia being a big country, enforcement was difficult to be applied in all areas.

“It’s a cat and mouse kind of situation. They might be enforcing some measures in a certain location, but in some other part of the country, there are still people clearing land and causing these fires,” he said.

Educating inhabitants in the affected areas is one crucial step that need to be taken, but the farmers and communities are spread over large areas. Despite these challenges, Indonesia and its Asean neighbours should continue to conduct more public awareness efforts, urge stricter enforcement on the ground and to ensure smoother and more fluid mobilisation of fire fighting fires to combat the smoke haze problem, he said, adding that Indonesia’s neighbours, including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines, were on standby alert and were prepared to send their firefighting equipment and manpower in case of a fire emergency.

Mr Ong viewed such measures to be merely temporary solutions. The problem should be tackled and solved using long-term, preventive actions, he said. One such measure is to reduce the fires by enforcing regulation to inhibit such activities that might lead to these fires.

Mr Ong said the authorities should start considering enforcing punitive measures for culprits. There are fears that some small farmers might be unduly penalised, but he stressed that the important aspect was getting local authorities to be effective in enforcing such measures.

The smoke haze affecting Brunei had cleared up in the afternoon, thanks to a prolonged period of rain in the morning. By the afternoon, the skies had cleared up and the haze lessened in intensity. According to the duty forecaster at the Brunei Meteorological Service, yesterday’s visibility ranged between 1.5 to 5 km.

According to the duty forecaster, the rains were expected to continue early today which would help wash out the airborne smoke particles. Although the rain had managed to lessen the severity of the smoke haze overhanging the nation, the haze would still persist, he said.


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