SE Asia takes steps to tackle haze

SE Asia takes steps to tackle haze

2 November 2006

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Southeast Asia  —  Five south-east Asian countries on Thursday signed up to a series of joint measures aimed at preventing a repeat of the choking haze that has blanketed much of the region for months, costing their economies hundreds of millions of dollars.

Indonesia is set to raise spending tenfold on the anti-haze plan, which will include offering seeds to farmers as an incentive for them to stop clearing their land byburning.

Companies in the region will be asked to prepare fire-fighting strategies, while a programme will start to educate communities about the dangers of haze.

Officials from Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand said they hoped the steps would cut the number of fires that cause the pollution.

The Singaporean government said on Thursday that this year’s haze had been the worst since 1997. The smog has forced the closure of airports on several days in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, while some schools have been shut for up to a month.

Masnellyarti Hilman, Indonesia’s minister responsible for tackling the haze, told the Financial Times the cost to Indonesia alone, including losses from businesses and tourism, could exceed Rp1,000bn ($100m).

The smog started to clear this week thanks both to a change in prevailing winds, bringing rain, and the deployment of two Russian BE-200 fire-fighting aircraft.

Ms Masnellyarti said she expected to have an annual budget of Rp500bn to implement the plan, about 10 times more than at present.

Greg Clough, a spokesman for the Centre for International Forestry Research, based in Indonesia, welcomed the regional plan. “We can’t expect poor rural farmers to stop using fire to clear land for farming because it is a very cheap and effective farming tool,” he said. “Reimbursing them for their loss of livelihood may encourage them to do that.”

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