Singapore — Asian environment ministers warned Wednesday against more regional haze pollution in the coming months, as climate forecasters expected a moderate to strong El Nino event in the last quarter of 2009.
‘Let us prepare for the worst, (and) do what we can,’ Singapore Minister of Environment Yaacob Ibrahim said after hosting a ministerial committee meeting of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on trans-boundary haze pollution.
According to a report by ASEAN meteorologists, El Nino – the periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean that influences global weather patterns – was likely to exacerbate and prolong the current dry season until October.
An increase in hotspot activities could be expected in fire-prone areas in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sarawak over the next few months, leading to more haze pollution in the region, the ministers said in a statement.
Haze from burning forests, largely in Indonesia, has blanketed parts of South-East Asia in recent weeks.
For years, Indonesia had faced criticism from its neighbours for not doing enough to fight the fires set by locals and companies with oil-palm plantations.
The ministers from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei and Indonesia ‘noted the enhanced efforts’ and ‘several new actions’ taken by Indonesia to deal with haze pollution, listing legal revisions, enforcement actions or fire-suppression activities.
‘We must acknowledge the fact that Indonesia is trying to do something to bring down the fires, but as to whether or not their plan of action is on target,’ Yaacob said. ‘This is best left to Indonesia to review.’
Indonesia’s neighbours would give any assistance needed, but it had to take the lead, said the Singapore minister, who had criticized Jakarta’s response to the current haze.
‘We stand ready to play our part,’ he said, ‘but we have to be guided by Indonesia where to put our resources.’
The ministers agreed to ban all open burning, including suspending permits for prescribed burning activities in fire-prone areas.
‘This is a major move,’ Yaacob said. ‘It is the most important thing to enforce the ban.’