Tougher steps against fires to be taken

Asean task force meeting on haze ——————————–

A MULTI-LATERAL task force set up to combat the haze currently enveloping the region yesterday agreed to step up measures to control ground and forest fires to minimise the air pollution.

At an eight-hour meeting of the Asean Task Force on trans-boundary haze pollution held here, Indonesia undertook to study the feasibility of using water bombers for fire suppression and to strengthen enforcement against illegal forest fires, officials announced later.

In a press statement, senior officials from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei noted the urgency of stepping up their joint efforts because of changing weather conditions.

It said: “The meeting noted that the El Nino event has set in and is continuing to strengthen.

“This event has resulted in abnormally dry conditions in Indonesia and the surrounding region.”

El Nino is the phenomenon that marks the start of the dry season. It is associated with droughts in the country.

The statement said that the present dry conditions were expected to continue until late October when the prevailing south-westerly wind was expected to shift to the north-easterlies.

The onset of the north-east monsoon would then mark the end of the dry spell.

Officials at the meeting, initiated by Indonesia after the haze began raising serious concern in the region in May, also agreed to strengthen regional cooperation to combat the air pollution. Each country was charged with looking into a particular area.

The measures to be taken include establishing an intra-net for rapid dissemination of information.

Singapore, whose delegation was led by Mr Tan Gee Paw, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of the Environment, would take the lead in setting up this intra-net facility.

Malaysia would lead a joint scientific assessment of factors affecting trans-haze pollution.

Indonesia would take the lead in strengthening intra-agency cooperation in enforcement against ground and forest fires.

It would also evaluate technical and economic options for use of biomass arising from land preparation without burning.

The Assistant Minister for Coordination in Indonesia’s Environment Ministry, Mr Surna Djajadiningrat, said that senior officials from all four countries held “frank and in-depth discussions” on the matter. “The Asean spirit prevailed in this meeting,” he said.

“We did not blame each other for the problem and recognised that the problem was one of common concern for all.”

He said the Indonesian government was doing its best to resolve the problem.

“Otherwise it might affect the credibility of the Indonesian government,” he stressed.

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