Jakarta will make rain – if KL can provide the planes

The two sides need to work together to battle the haze.

YOU provide the planes and we will provide the rain.

This was Indonesia’s call to Malaysia as Jakarta sought to find solutions to clear the haze enveloping the region.

Coordinating Minister for Social Welfare Azwar Anas said that both countries needed to forge an agreement to combat the problem on a regular basis.

“Indonesia has the ability to make artificial rain while Malaysia has planes to combat forest fires,” the Antara news agency yesterday quoted him as saying after a meeting with Malaysia’s Information Minister Datuk Mohamad Rahmat here.

“So the two countries should join forces.”

Datuk Mohamad heads Malaysia’s national coordinating agency for natural disasters.

No details were available immediately on the proposal to use Malaysian planes.

An Asean Task Force meeting on trans-boundary haze pollution more than a week ago had agreed to study the feasibility of using water bombers for fire suppression.

Indonesia has so far tried to clear the haze, the result of forest fires in Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan, by creating artificial rain through cloud-seeding operations.

Mr Anas, who heads the national coordinating agency for natural disasters, said that both countries also agreed to exchange information in dealing with forest fires.

He said that the agreement would be formalised by a bilateral pact which would pave the way for the creation of a joint natural-disaster committee to deal with forest fires.

He did not say when the pact would be signed.

But Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumatmadja said on Thursday the two sides would meet soon to discuss joint efforts to combat the haze.

“We will send representatives to Malaysia next week,” The Indonesian Observer yesterday quoted him as saying.

He acknowledged that Indonesia’s air-pollution standard was too lenient – a standard beyond the tolerable limit in countries such as Malaysia.

The comments from the two ministers come after a call by a senior United States official for increased regional cooperation in dealing with Indonesia’s forest fires.

Ms Sandra Kristoff, a special assistant to US President Bill Clinton, said her government considered the handling of forest fires not only the responsibility of Indonesia, but of other nations as well.

“The environmental problem is impossible to tackle without help from other nations,” she told a round-table discussion conducted simultaneously in Jakarta, Bangkok, Manila and Kuala Lumpur via satellite broadcast.

The haze has covered parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan and has reached neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

The Asean Task Force on trans-boundary pollution agreed to take tougher steps to combat the haze, including strengthening enforcement against illegal forest fires.

The Indonesian government, on its part, has vowed to take stern action against those responsible for the fires.

It has accused five large-scale plantation companies in Riau of setting forest fires to clear land for new plantation areas.

Local officials are investigating the dossiers of the five firms, before taking their cases to the court. The government has banned farmers and companies from burning forests and fields.

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