Southeast Asia — For more than a decade, ASEAN Environment Ministershave had regular meetings to discuss ways to tackle the trans boundary hazepollution in the region.
Dozens of committees and task forces were formed but very little achieved.
Forests, peat lands and plantations in Indonesia continue to be razed – sendingsmoke annually into neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.
But now the Environment Ministers, who are meeting in Brunei Darussalam, want tocut to the chase and focus their efforts directly on the ground.
“12-15 years we have a lot of sub-committees – nothing has moved. SinceOctober 2006 when we felt the urgency of the haze problem, we convened themeeting in Pekan Baru – a lot moved in the last 6 months. So what it shows isthere’s political will,” said Singapore’s Environment Minister Dr YaacobIbrahim.
Singapore’s plan to collaborate directly with a province in Jambi, Sumatra totackle forests fires has inspired the grouping.
Focus will now be given on such projects with a view of replicating it to otherareas in Indonesia.
Said Azmi Khalid, Malaysia’s Envrironment Minister, “Giving informationabout haze – everybody is having it. Talking about climate and weather we allhave. We all have satellites – we know. Hot spots – we know. But how do you godown and get it done – this is what we’re going to do.”
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said, “To put in simple words – clean-up our act, get thethings going. First of all reduce the number of committees and meetings, focuson the haze agreement, develop the work plan and then start implementing thingson the ground.”
This renewed sense of urgency also saw Indonesia coming out with a plan ofaction to tackle forest fires in its territories.
Jakarta is confident that its whopping US$150 million plan can halve theincidence of forest fires this year.
This is the twelfth time the ASEAN Environment Ministers have met to tackle thehaze in the region.
Indonesia has yet to ratify the Trans Boundary Haze Agreement, neither has thePhilippines.
Also the Haze Fund has not taken off the ground – most member countries say theyare still considering the voluntary contribution.
But despite these setbacks, ASEAN Ministers have decided to press on withefforts on the ground – a move which they are confident will bring aboutmeasurable change when the next dry season comes around again.