Indonesia — Regional officials on Monday praised Indonesia’s efforts toreduce a haze caused by forest fires which regularly choke Southeast Asia.
The blazes, set by large plantations and farmers, send smoke into Indonesianskies and across boundaries into neighbouring countries each year during the Mayto October dry season.
“I wouldn’t say that there will be no haze,” Yaacob Ibrahim,Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, told reportersafter talks among regional officials on ways to tackle the haze.
“But having said that, we also noted the efforts of our Indonesiancounterparts, where they have set a target and reaffirmed the target to reducethe hotspots by 50 percent — which we welcome.”
Yaacob said the target gave cause for optimism that “the situation willbe slightly better” than in 2006, the last severe outbreak of the haze.
Singapore joined representatives from Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia andThailand for Monday’s talks.
“Over the next few months, increased hotspot activities may occur in thefire-prone areas of Sumatra, peninsula Malaysia and Borneo, particularly duringextended periods of dry weather,” the committee said in a statement.
It said parts of Southeast Asia “can expect drier weather in the nextthree months as compared to the same period last year.”
Indonesia’s Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said in April that hotspotshad been reduced by 51 percent last year in key provinces and that improvementshould continue.
Firefighting helicopters will be put on standby in the most fire-proneprovinces, said Masyud, director of the information centre at Indonesia’sministry of forestry.
“Indonesia is highly concerned with land and forest fires and we areprepared to manage it if it happens this year,” Masyud said.
“So far the weather has been kind. There has been a lot of rain.”
The worst haze outbreak in 1997-98 cost the region an estimated nine billiondollars by disrupting air travel, tourism and other business.
Officials will hold further talks in Thailand in October.