Jakarta has shown will in tackling problem : Cheow Tong

THE BIG HAZE

THE haze blanketing parts of Indonesia and neighbouring countries is likely to be much reduced in future, given that Indonesia was now taking drastic measures to tackle the problem, Singapore Health and Environment Minister Yeo Cheow Tong said yesterday.

Singapore also recognised the constraints Indonesia faced in solving the problem of forest and land fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, he added.

“Indonesia has shown a political will to resolve the problem by undertaking drastic measures and if this will remains, we can expect the haze to be less of a problem in the years ahead,” he told The Straits Times in an interview after the final day of a three-day meeting here, where Asean environment ministers gathered to discuss the haze and other issues.

Mr Yeo highlighted the indefinite ban on land clearing as the clearest example of Indonesia’s efforts to tackle the problem. President Suharto ordered the ban earlier this month.

“They have now mechanisms in place and if they can control the large-scale businesses that have caused these fires, then we will not face the situation we are experiencing now,” he said.

But he added that haze and smoke would still emanate from traditional slash-and-burn clearance methods, which now accounted for 20 per cent of fires in the country.

“It is not realistic to expect it to disappear altogether,” he said.

“But it is likely to be similar to the situation three years ago which I think was negligible compared to now.”

He said Asean ministers had discussed the matter at length during their meeting. But he stressed that it was important to also recognise certain constraints the country faced in resolving the matter.

Giving his frank assessment of these limitations, he said this included the onset of the dry season, the worst in 50 years, and an expansion in the agricultural sector by private firms, many of which stuck to the practice of land clearing by burning.

Linked to this was the problem of the country’s huge size, which made enforcement much more difficult.

Another pertinent factor, which he said was highlighted by Indonesia’s Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, was the difficulty in enforcing laws in the country.

He said Singapore would consider Jakarta’s request for Pollution Standard Index (PSI) monitoring equipment.

The Republic would also look into Indonesia’s invitation to send representatives to its National Coordinating Agency for Controlling Land and Forest Fires.

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