Jakarta Indonesia yesterday said that almost all of the forest and brush fires that have produced the haze blanketing much of Southeast Asia over the recent weeks, have died out.
Indonesia’s Environment Minister Rahmat Witoelar gave the latest update, as senior environment officials from five countries of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand met in Jakarta to come up with an action plan to tacklehaze.
“Its okay, now. Ninety per cent of it is gone. I hope it stays like that,” Mr Witoelar was quoted by Reuters as saying. He added: “I believe we won’t have a replay of what has happened every year since 20 years ago. Of course, it is a courageous thing to say, but with your support and with the system we’re trying to establish here we hope, and it is imperative that we do it now because of the sufferings of the people in the bigcities.”
While Jakarta has promised new measures, it said it will require a few more years to eradicate theproblem.
During the one-day meeting, the officials explored a mechanism for monitoring and reporting forest fires, and how information can be shared in the region to alert and update the region on impendinghaze.
Other plans include setting up an early warning system and community based fire-fighting brigades on Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands where the fires haveraged.
The officials, along with representatives from environmental groups, also heard from Indonesia about what it has done to control illegal slash-and-burn activities in South Sumatra andKalimantan.
Indonesia is also hopeful that a satellite monitoring system can be established to detect fires faster, said MrWitoelar.
However, observers said having a dedicated satellite to monitor forest fires in Indonesia may be a long shot because it involves massivefunding.
The haze caused by the forest fires has affected not just Indonesia but also its neighbours in theregion.
Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) said the haze for much of the past month in the city-state was the worst since 1997.
Since the end of September, the NEA’s air quality index registered the air as “unhealthy” hitting above 100 threetimes.
The highest reading was 128 on Oct 7.
In 1997, there were 12 “unhealthy” days, with the worst day registering 138 on the pollution index. But the NEA said clearer skies can be expected for the rest of the year due to changing wind patterns and increased rainfall as the wet seasonnears.