ASEAN — ASEAN ministers might have expressed agreement to assist Indonesia fight forest fires but the so-called “haze fund” can only be raised once the country ratifies an agreement to jointly combat the disaster.
Brunei Darussalam Environment Minister Dato Awang Haji Abdullah said Saturday that during the Friday sub-regional ministerial meeting on transboundary haze pollution in Pekanbaru, Riau, the ministers had agreed to jointly fight forest fires, including raising the haze fund.
However, he said such efforts and funds could only materialize once the country ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.
The country signed the agreement in 2002 but has yet to ratify it. Legislation to ratify the bill has stalled in the House of Representatives because many legislators want to include illegal logging provisions in the bill.
“If the agreement is not ratified, the funds can’t be realized,” he said in Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Airport in Palembang, South Sumatra.
The minister was in the town along with Malaysia’s senior technical development program chief Kank Than Song, Indonesian Forestry Minister MS Ka’ban, State Minister for the Environment Rachmat Witoelar and Riau Governor HM Rusli Zainal.
The Bruneian minister said Brunei was affected by haze billowing from South and West Kalimantan. Although this year’s haze was not as bad as that of 1997, it has affected Brunei residents’ health, he added.
“Haze blanketing Brunei comes from forest fires in South and West Kalimantan and it has caused problems for the people,” he said.
Haze from slash-and-burn land clearing has been a chronic annual problem between Indonesia and its neighbors. In the worst 1997-1998 case, it caused US$9 billion in financial losses to business activities and disruption of flights.
Rachmat said the government appreciated that neighboring countries wished Indonesia to ratify the agreement but it would be done according to the country’s laws.
In Friday’s meeting in Riau, he said there had been an agreement to provide assistance in the form of equipment to combat forest fires as well as a plan to hold a workshop in November. The ministers are also forming a steering committee to implement the agreement.
“The results of the meeting (in Riau) will be taken to the ASEAN meeting in Cebu, the Philippines, in November,” Rachmat said.
Meanwhile, South Sumatra Governor Syahrial Oesman said forest fires had caused the province Rp 129.7 billion in financial losses, as the disaster has affected 55,815 hectares of land, of which 16 percent of fires took place on peat land.
“Currently, forest fires are occurring in the eastern coastal area of South Sulawesi, which is mostly covered by peat land,” he said, adding that 1,620 hot spots recorded between September and October were mostly found in Ogan Komering Ilir regency.