ASEAN has developed a more coordinated and streamline approach to tackling forest fires in Indonesia that have annually blanketed parts of the region in smoke.
The Regional Action Plan is agreed by the five ASEAN countries most affected by the haze after a special session among the environment ministers.
Ministers from the ten ASEAN nations are in the Philippine resort island of Cebu to discuss co-operation on a wide range of environmental issues.
But the recurring haze, arising out of the forest fires in Indonesia, is top of the agenda for five of its members.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei want immediate action on the perennial problem.
These countries bore the brunt of the choking smoke from the indiscriminate land-clearing activities by farmers and plantation firms.
They have now agreed upon a long-term Regional Plan of Action.
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore’s Environment Minister, says: “We obviously want to look at the programmes at two levels – one, at the regional level, and the other, at the local level where we adopt one of the five fire-prone districts.”
Member countries can now offer Indonesia’s farming community alternate ways of land-clearing.
International assistance will go to help rehabilitate vast areas of dry peat land which catches fire easily during the dry season.
Jakarta will host a conference bringing together global experts to discuss the problem.
Mr Rahmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s Environment Minister, says: “Even while we’re talking about it, in Jakarta we have ADB, UNEP and other big funding agencies making presence. Since we’re now solidly together, this is a more promising situation.”
Indonesia has already allotted a bigger budget next year to educate farming communities and carry out stricter law enforcements on those who set fires.
Voluntary contributions from member nations will go towards a haze fund.
The grouping acknowledged that there is no quick fix to the problem of forest fires. A plan of action is now in place but it will take sometime before its effectiveness can be seen.
There is no guarantee there will be no fire from now until the next dry season, but member countries will now work more closely to take remedial actions quickly to prevent a repeat of this year’s haze problem.