ASEAN — International help is needed to tackle severe haze from burning Indonesian forests blanketing South-East Asian countries, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a published report on Monday. While meteorologists forecast the worst is over for this year, they have warned Indonesia’s dry spell could be prolonged by four months in 2007 if the El Nino weather effect returns.
“To tackle this at its roots, that means before it starts burning, to prevent the fires from being started, we will need resources and we need enforcement,” The Straits Times quoted Lee as saying on Sunday.
Farmers, plantation owners and workers have been blamed for the land-clearing fires during the dry season from June to August.
The Pollution Standards Index (PSI) has been back in the healthy and moderate ranges in Singapore since last week. It hit unhealthy levels, above 100, and once reached 150, the worst in nine years.
People were warned by environmental officials to stay indoors and in air conditioned rooms.
The economy was not spared. “If you have haze like this every year, tourism will be effected,” Lee said.
Indonesia has made some headway, Lee acknowledged, citing the setting aside of funds for efforts to fight the fires and leasing of two Russian firefighting planes.
Environmental ministers from the Association of South-East Asian (ASEAN) nations have formed a committee to oversee haze fighting measures.
Details of an action plan are expected to be confirmed this week when ASEAN environmental ministers meet in Cebu in the Philippines.
International experts could help solve difficult problems such as dealing with peat fires and work with the Indonesian authorities on alternative ways to clear land, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim.
ASEAN includes Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma).