Asean pressures Indonesia over rise in haze pollution

Asean pressures Indonesia over rise in haze pollution

24 September 2011

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ASEAN — Asean nations are pressuring Indonesia to control transboundary haze which has caused widespread health and environmental impacts in the region.

According to the information presented at the ministerial meeting on transboundary haze pollution in Bangkok yesterday, most of the hotspots, caused by forest fires and farmland burning, are in Indonesia.

The meeting was attended by environment ministers from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Thailand’s southern provinces have also been affected by transboundary haze comprised of tiny dust particles from forest fires and burning in open areas.

“When the haze started to affect the South, we wrote to Indonesia to ask for an explanation about the situation,” said Pollution Control Department chief Supat Wangwongwattana. “However, Jakarta did not respond.” Malaysia and Singapore are also affected, he added.

“We’d like Indonesia to better inform other countries about the transboundary haze situation,” Mr Supat said.

Asean countries have made a commitment to reduce the number of haze hotspots by 20% from the baseline year in 2006. This number had reduced from 29,900 in the sub-region of five countries in 2006 to only 8,000 last year. However, the number of hotspots jumped back up to 17,600 this year.

Indonesia is the main hotspot source as large swathes of peatland have been transformed into mono-crop plantations, including rubber and oil plam plantations. Mr Supat said the sub-region countries would like Indonesia to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Indonesia is the only country that has not ratified the pact, which is a legally-binding tool for controlling haze pollution.

The agreement also covers the Asean haze fund, which each member donates to on a voluntary basis.

Indonesia cited a change of parliament as a reason for the delay of the ratification procedure, Mr Supat added.

Singapore’s environment minister Vivian Balarkrishnan, who chaired the meeting yesterday, said the Bangkok talks were fruitful, but more work needed to be done on reducing the number of peatland fires, and to push for the enforcement of laws limiting the trans-boundary haze.

The minister suggested the use of satellite maps to identify the haze hotspots so that the countries in which they are situated can take responsibility and step up their control measures.

Arief Yuwono, Indonesia’s deputy of degradation control and climate change from the Ministry of Environment, insisted Jakarta has done its best to prevent the haze.

The country had spent more than US$2 million (61.8 million baht) on haze pollution control projects.

“We have our own plan to revise the national framework for suppression and mitigation of transboundary haze pollution, including law enforcement measures,” he said.

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