Indonesia told to crack down on smog-causing forest fires

Southeast Asian Environment Ministers have urged Indonesia to clamp down on the perpetrators of forest fires producing a choking regional smog as dry weather conditions are predicted for 2001.

At the end of the eighth ministerial meeting on the environment of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which ended on 7 October, Ministers “urged Indonesia to take effective enforcement measures to tackle plantation and forest fires in order to prevent a repeat of the 1997 regional haze”, a statement said. It was also announced that the organisation, which is an economic and social grouping of 10 Southeast Asian nations, agreed to develop a Transboundary Haze Pollution pact, which is expected to be finalised within a year. No further details were available.

At the two-day event in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Indonesia’s Assistant Minister for Global Environment Affairs Effendy Sumardja, said his ministry was planning to make public the list of individuals or companies which conducted open burning, Malaysia’s Bernama news agency reported. The minister said Indonesia would send a judicial team to Malaysia to study and possibly adopt its measures concerning the enforcement of open burning regulations.

Plantation firms trying to clear land and slash-and-burn farmers in Indonesian Sumatra and Kalimantan, combined with a drought induced by the El Nino weather pattern, were blamed for a thick smog which had devastating effects on health in Malaysia and Singapore in 1997. There was further anger and worry in July this year when forest fires appeared again in Sumatra and Kalimantan, sending smog over Singapore, parts of Malaysia and southern Thailand (see related story).

“Meteorologists in the region have predicted that the La Nina wet weather is reaching its tail end and that there is a 30 per cent chance of El Nino returning next year,” an ASEAN statement said, increasing fears of a repeat of the 1997 scenario.

The conference also passed a resolution to jointly co-operate on biodiversity conservation issues including biosafety and access to biological and genetic resources and dealing with the negative impacts of globalisation.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The next meeting will be held in Myanmar in 2003.

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