Indonesia rebuffs Singapore offer of haze assistance

Indonesia rebuffs Singapore offer of haze assistance

09 June 2016

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Indonesia — Responding to Singapore’s offer to help Indonesia combat forest fires, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said on Thursday (June 9) environmental issues needed to be dealt with through a regional agreement, not a bilateral one, according to a report by the Jakarta Globe.

“If the air is clean, all people in Asia — and Singapore — will be able to ­enjoy it. Therefore, if (the environment) is destroyed, we have to fix it ­together,” said Mr Kalla at the opening of the 20th Environmental and Forestry Week in Jakarta.

Jakarta has rejected previous ­bilateral offers since 2005, insisting all Asian countries — including Singapore — were responsible for environmental damage.

Mr Kalla noted that the Indonesian government accepted some offers of help for last year’s severe forest and peat land fires, including helicopters from Singapore.

A team comprising 40 Singapore Armed Forces and Singapore Civil Defence Force officers spent more than 10 days battling forest fires in Palembang in October. Malaysia and Japan also rendered assistance.

In 2005, Indonesia had accepted Singapore’s offer of providing high-resolution satellite pictures, one C-130 aircraft for cloud-seeding operations and a contingent of fire fighters.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya said her country could accept help only in ­accordance with regional agreements in South-east Asia.

“There is no bilateral (arrangement) for work or help to mitigate forest fires,” said Ms Nurbaya. “It is through the Asean (Association of South-east Asian Nations) agreement,” she said, referring to the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution signed in 2002. “Therefore, it is not true that a special bilateral partnership has been established.”

According to the agreement’s protocol, assistance can be provided only if a country has requested it in an emergency situation.

Malaysia has mooted the idea of a bilateral mechanism with Indonesia to tackle the yearly phenomenon.

Last year’s forest fires in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua, which lasted three months, created severe haze throughout the region. It was the worst-ever haze episode in the region, affecting tens of millions of people and costing Indonesia an estimated US$16 billion (S$22.1 billion) and Singapore about S$700 million.

Ahead of the annual dry season in Indonesia, Singapore this week ­renewed its offer to help combat forest fires with an assistance package that includes C-130 planes, firefighters and high-resolution satellite imagery.

“Every year since 2005, Singapore has offered assistance packages to support Indonesia in its fire mitigation efforts,” said the Ministry of the ­Environment and Water Resources in a statement on Tuesday.

“This is part of the Singapore Government’s broader commitment to assist the ­Indonesian government in its efforts to deal with the land and forest fires in the run-up to the traditional dry season from June to October.”

The statement added that “the Singapore Government remains committed to working with the Indonesian government and other like-minded partners to find more permanent solutions to this regional problem”.

However, media ­reports last month said Indonesia would scrap some ongoing and upcoming collaboration projects with Singapore on ­environment, forestry and haze-related issues as part of a unilateral review on bilateral cooperation that Jakarta was conducting.

Ms Nurbaya claimed on Thursday she was not aware of the offer from Singapore. “I haven’t read the (offer) letter. I will check,” she said.

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