Asean braces for the haze … yet again

   Asean braces for the haze … yet again

29 April 2009

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ASEAN — Countries in the southern part of South-East Asia are preparing early for the possibility of a transboundary haze due to an anticipated prolonged dry spell.

The ministers in charge of environmental issues from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand met at the Brunei capitol here Wednesday for a sub-regional ministerial committee meeting on the issue.

They warned that a prolonged dry spell may hit the region from June to September.

Malaysia’s Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Douglas Unggah said there will be an anticipated surge of hotspots due to fires during the coming dry season.

“The Asean (Association of South-East Asian Nations) Specialised Meteorological Centre reported that occasional showers interspersed with short dry spells can be expected in May, with brief surges in the number of hotspots during the drier periods.

“The traditional dry season in the southern part of the Asean region is likely to start around June and will last until September.

“Increased hotspots can be expected in the region, with the possibility of transboundary haze during the more persistent dry periods. Vigilance should be stepped up in anticipation of this escalation of hotspots,” he said after the meeting at a resort here.

The ministers agreed that not only should Asean member countries increase their alertness for hotpsots inside their own borders, they must also share more detailed and specific information concerning the air-pollution situation in each others’ countries with the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC).

The ministers decided that Asean member countries should share data about their country’s environmental particulate matters of less than 10 microns and furnish the ASMC with these details so that it can monitor the dispersion of smoke and the impact caused by the transboundary haze in the region.

They must share these data in addition to reporting to the centre on the number of existing hotspots and the prevailing weather outlook in their respective countries.

During the meeting here, Asean member countries expressed their appreciation to Indonesia for “the substantial effort it has put in to implement its action plan to tackle transboundary haze pollution.”

The ministers noted that Indonesia had implemented several new moves to try to prevent and mitigate forest fires and open-burning.

Among other measures, it has enforced a zero-burning campaign that included the enactment of laws that prohibit using fire as a means of land-clearing.

The Indonesian government had also made efforts to provide the appropriate machinery and equipment that would enable land-clearing by farmers to be carried out without resorting to open-burning in southern Sumatra and central Kalimantan.

Indonesia has also developed a fire-danger rating system that enabled more efficient control, the meeting noted.

As for Malaysia and Indonesia’s joint efforts to tackle the haze, the two governments had jointly collaborated to install an air-quality monitoring station in Riau Province in Indonesia.

The station is expected to be fully operational next month and will go a long way in helping to detect fires and haze early, the ministers said.

Indonesia and Malaysia are also aggressively carrying out fire prevention programmes in five selected villages in Rokan Hilir Regency (in Indonesia) by trying to rehabilitate and manage the peatlands there.

During the meeting yesterday, Asean also thanked Thailand for contributing US$50,000 to the Asean Transboundary Haze Pollution Control Fund.

Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Vietnam had earlier contributed US$50,000 each to the fund.

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