ASEAN, EU to unite in fighting haze

 ASEAN, EU to unite in fighting haze

15 September 2016

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ASEAN / EU —   ASEAN and the EU have agreed to cooperate in managing peatlands and combating cross-boundary haze pollution in order to prevent a recurrence of last year’s disastrous forest fires that ended up severely affecting the wider region.

Franck Viault, the head of cooperation at the delegation of the EU to Indonesia, said on Wednesday that about €24 million (US$26.9 million) in funds had been set aside to finance the Regional Peatlands program. The EU will provide €20 million while co-financier Germany will provide the rest of the money.

“It [the program] is to be implemented next year. It is to be implemented in all ASEAN member states, but with specific focus in Indonesia and Malaysia because you have the majority of peatland areas,” Viault told The Jakarta Post, adding that most of the haze also emanated from these two countries, and “first and foremost from Indonesia.”

Viault said the program was designed to “financially and technically” help the Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG). The German International Cooperation Enterprise (GIZ) is going to work with the local government. “For instance, the regency in South Sumatra,” Viault said.

GIZ, according to the EU’s action document for Sustainable Use of Peatland and Haze Mitigation in ASEAN, is strengthening regional governance to implement the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy 2006-2020 through capacity building and tangible demonstrations of activities on the ground.

The activities include “strengthening regional cooperation through the provision of technical and material support to regional institutions on sustainable peatland management.”

Communication with plantation companies, NGOs, local communities and civil society will also be conducted in order to encourage them participate in efforts to combat forest fires.

“So this should be a program helping Indonesian institutions because you know that a lot of the haze is generated from Indonesia,” Viault said.

According to Antara news agency, the Terra and Aqua satellites from NASA detected 37 hot spots in five provinces across Sumatra on Sunday.

Slamet Riyadi, a spokesman of the Pekanbaru meteorology station, said the number of hot spots had increased significantly from only three on Saturday. Of the 37 hot spots, 25 were found in Bangka Belitung, six in South Sumatra, three in Lampung, two in Bengkulu and one in Riau.

The worst forest and peatland fires in Indonesian history took place in 2015 with thousands of hot spots covering Sumatra and Kalimantan. At least 19 people died and thousands, mostly children, were hospitalized because of severe respiratory illnesses caused by the haze.

Viault was speaking at the launch of the EU’s first annual Report on Development Cooperation With ASEAN, the so called Blue Book.

EU funding for ASEAN regional development cooperation programs for 2014 to 2020 amount to €196 million, the Blue Book shows. Some €170 million exclusively earmarked for ASEAN covers support in three focal areas: connectivity through sustainable and inclusive economic integration and trade, amounting to €85 million; climate change and disaster management, amounting to €63.7 million, and improving communication.

The ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems (ASEAN SAS) program is also among the programs funded. With a budget of €7 million, the program trains some 700 agriculture ministry officials and over 15,000 farming households across the region.

One of the beneficiaries, Cambodian farmer Sun Song, said his crop yields had increased after receiving lessons in the ASEAN SAS program.

“I used to apply chemical pesticides to control diseases. But now, I use an organic fertilizer and pesticide for my cucumbers and string beans. The yield is higher and the vegetables are of better quality,” Song said as quoted by the Blue Book.

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