ASEAN — Indonesia said it is stepping up enforcement to ensure plantation owners do not use fire to clear land.
The fires often lead to smoke haze in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia.
At an ASEAN gathering in Bangkok to discuss ways of combating the problem, Singapore officials said the issue has not been resolved.
Smoke haze is an annual problem in countries like Singapore and Malaysia, and regional environmental authorities met in Bangkok on Friday to discuss the issue.
Land and forest fires on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra frequently create a thick, grey haze during the dry season.
Winds carry the particulate matter north to Singapore and Malaysia. And this clouds the skies, reduces visibility, and creates health concerns.
At the annual meeting of the ASEAN’s steering committee on trans-boundary haze pollution, officials from Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia said they are all working together to tackle the problem.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, said: “It was a good meeting, we were very frank with each other and that’s always helpful. And we’ve reviewed the progress and if you look at the situation from 2006 to now, five years later, there’s actually been significant progress in the number of hotspots – at about 29,000 before, it’s now down to about 17,000.
“But having said that, it’s still cause for concern. We also appealed to the Indonesian delegation to expedite the process of ratification of the ASEAN agreement because that would signify political commitment to this process.”
Officials said Indonesia is taking steps to reduce fires and haze, but they said much work remains to be done.
The vastness of Indonesia’s land makes it difficult to police.
In addition, setting fire to peat lands to create palm oil plantations is a lucrative practice.
Indonesia’s Deputy of Degradation Control and Climate Change at the Environment Ministry said his country is stepping up law enforcement efforts and taking steps to fight fires.
“We’ve also seen that the Indonesian government has taken many active steps to deal with the problem. We’ve noted the progress there and we’ve also offered our support. We will be more open and transparent and we’ll be sharing all the data, including satellite data not only between governments but also to make it available to NGOs and to members of the public,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
“The key point here is to make the culprits and the companies responsible for haze more accountable and to subject them to economic as well as public pressure to do the right thing,” he added.
Just earlier this month, the skies over Singapore and Malaysia were covered in smoke haze from the burning in Indonesia.