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  Today Online 11 Oct 06
Clear skies, where there's a will
Power to turn the tide lies in everyone's pocket

Letter from Lee Swee Kim
Press haze issue via Asean, or even the United Nations
Letter from Fok Kar Kee
Train Indonesian soldiers to be fire-fighters
Letter from P Mathavan

Straits Times Online 11 Oct 06
Is there political will in Jakarta to stop the forest fires?
Letter from Daniel Koh Kah Soon

Straits Times Online 11 Oct 06
Indonesia has neglected haze problem for too long. Does it really care?
Letter from Tan Chak Lim

PlanetArk 11 Oct 06
SE Asia Ministers to Meet on Haze, Prayers for Rain
Story by Johan Wijaya

Antara 11 Oct 06
Indonesia fires rage, wind helps clear Singapore air

Yahoo News 10 Oct 06
Southeast Asian ministers to pressure Indonesia over haze

Channel NewsAsia 10 Oct 06
ASEAN Environment ministers planning meeting to discuss haze
By Farah Abdul Rahim

SINGAPORE: ASEAN Environment Ministers are planning talks to tackle the haze situation in the region.

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim has invited his counterparts from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to a meeting in Singapore this Friday.

The meeting will discuss urgent and long term measures that the region could take to tackle the haze situation.

The move came as the haze continues to affect countries in the region, including Malaysia and Singapore.

Singapore's air quality worsened again on Tuesday after some respite from the haze over the past two days. Winds brought in the smoke haze from Indonesia, sending the Pollutant Standards Index or PSI up from midday. It recorded a 70 at 2pm before hitting a high of 83 at 5pm. However, the 24-hour PSI stayed in the moderate range at 59. The National Environment Agency says a health advisory will only be issued when the PSI goes above 100, which is in the 'unhealthy' range.

Indonesia has yet to ratify the 2002 ASEAN agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. - CNA /dt

Yahoo News 10 Oct 06
Southeast Asian ministers to pressure Indonesia over haze

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - A meeting of Southeast Asian environment ministers is being planned to pressure Indonesia to take action on the haze crisis blighting parts of the region, Malaysia said.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Azmi Khalid said his Singapore counterpart had proposed the talks after haze pushed air quality to unhealthy levels in the city-state and most of Malaysia.

"It is a suggestion we meet with some of the ministers from ASEAN countries to discuss the matter," Azmi told AFP. "It's just to have some sort of dialogue to put pressure on Indonesia and maybe make them understand others' problems, our problems," he said.

Indonesia's foreign ministry spokesman, Yuri Thamrin, said the meeting would be held in the town of Pekanbaru on Sumatra island's Riau province, near Singapore. "We are going to host it but there is no set date yet for it," he told AFP.

Azmi said he had gone to Indonesia in June to discuss the problem and was less than impressed with Jakarta's efforts so far.

"They informed me they have all the mechanisms in place to prevent haze and put out the fires," he said. "Of course, when you see the haze now, the conclusion can only be made that whatever mechanisms they have are not effective."

Anger has been growing in Malaysia over the choking haze from fires raging in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia, which every year drift over parts of Southeast Asia -- damaging health and disrupting transport and tourism. In a protest outside Indonesia's embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia's opposition on Tuesday criticized Jakarta for its indifference and pressed it to ratify an ASEAN anti-haze pact.

"ASEAN must ensure compliance (with the agreement). We have suffered enough," said the secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party, Lim Guan Eng, wearing a face mask and armed with a banner which read: "Keep our skies blue."

The haze agreement was signed in 2002 and came into force the following year. All ASEAN members have ratified the deal except Indonesia.

Indonesia insisted Tuesday that its efforts to subdue the land-clearing fires have been partially successful, even though conditions remained poor in some areas.

Forestry minister Malem Kaban said the number of the illegal fires had been drastically cut in recent days. "The minister said that the efforts of people on the ground and the use of waterbombs has helped reduce the number of hotspots from around 6,000 three days ago to just about 600 now," his spokesman told AFP. "This is a process. You cannot get instant results," he added.

The haze lightened over Malaysia Tuesday, but continued to blanket parts of the Indonesian portion of Borneo island. In Palangkaraya, the capital of Borneo's Central Kalimantan province, visibility was down to just 150 meters, compared to 200-300 meters on Monday, officials said.

PlanetArk 11 Oct 06
SE Asia Ministers to Meet on Haze, Prayers for Rain
Story by Johan Wijaya

PELALAWAN, Indonesia - Southeast Asian ministers will meet soon to discuss ways to help Indonesia put out forest fires blanketing the region in smog, officials said on Tuesday, as people in fire-hit areas were left praying for rain.

Environment ministers from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations could gather in Singapore as early as this week to try to help Indonesia put out the fires and prevent them recurring in future, a Malaysian government official said.

Forest fires are burning mainly in Indonesia's part of Borneo island and on Sumatra island, also in Indonesia.

Most are deliberately lit. Each dry season, forest is illegally torched to clear land for agriculture, blanketing Southeast Asia in smog. But farmers are also using traditional slash-and-burn methods to clear or rejuvenate land.

Indonesian Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban admitted in a statement on Monday the government was struggling to douse the fires and an environment ministry official said rain was now key.

"Indeed, the government is hoping for the rain while trying to conduct cloud seeding or water bombing. Rain is needed for the larger scale," said Hermono Sigit, adding sporadic showers had occurred in some parts of Sumatra.

Cloud-seeding could work in some areas but in other areas conditions were not right, officials said, while water bombing with helicopters is only able to dump limited volumes of water.


Indonesia's six-month rainy season usually starts in October but weather experts say that this year it would probably only kick off nationwide in force near the end of this month.

Affected areas hope they do not have to wait that long. "We are not giving up but we are pushed to pray for rain," said Agus Aman, head of the forestry office in West Kalimantan province where smoke tends to drift to Malaysia.

Many of the hotspots are remote and roads heading to them are poor or non-existent, impeding efforts to extinguish the fire.

In areas where rain had occured like the huge but rural Pelalawan region in Sumatra's Riau province, residents said visibility had improved from the weekend.

But in Singapore, doctors noted an increase in health problems. "I have seen an increase in the number of persons with respiratory illness, either new cases with cough, breathlessness, or with those with throat and lung problems previously," said Dr. Ong Kian Chung, Consultant Respiratory Physician at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

Major fires in Indonesia in 1997-98 cost local economies billions of dollars and left many people ill. The fires over that period destroyed five million hectares (12 million acres) -- about the size of Costa Rica.

Malaysia fears the haze could hit tourism and businesses if Indonesia does not stamp out the fires soon.

Malaysia's largest opposition party, the Democratic Action Party, handed a protest note to the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, urging Jakarta to stop the burning. "On behalf of 26 million Malaysians, the DAP expresses the burning anger of our sufferings caused by the annual haze disaster befalling our region," the party said.

Galvanised by the 1997-98 fires, Southeast Asian countries signed the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002, but Indonesia has yet to ratify the pact. Indonesia says the bill is pending approval in parliament.

It is illegal to carry out slash-and-burn land clearing in Indonesia, but prosecutions take time and few have stuck.

Antara 11 Oct 06
Indonesia fires rage, wind helps clear Singapore air

Jakarta, (ANTARA News) - Forest fires were still raging across Indonesia on Sunday, with visibility cut to as low as 30 metres (100 ft) in parts of Borneo island, forcing cars to use headlights and throwing air travel into chaos.

The fires concentrated on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra are a regular occurence in the dry season but appear to have worsened this year with more fires on highly flammable peatland and amid a hot spell ahead of the start of rains due this month.

Thick haze blowing across from Sumatra prompted Singapore to post a health advisory on Saturday, warning people to scale back vigorous outdoor activity. The situation was slightly better on Sunday, with Singapore's three-hour average Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) down as low as 27, after hitting a nine-year high of 150 on Saturday, the National Environment Agency's Web site (www.nea.gov.sg) showed.

A spokeswoman at the agency said that south-southeasterly winds had blown some of the haze away from Singapore, but warned that it could only be a temporary shift. "We expect that later in the afternoon it could shift in a south-southwesterly direction again," she said.

In the town of Palangkaraya in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province on Borneo, visibility fell as low as 30-50 metres, according to El Shinta radio. Cars used headlights to avoid accidents, while flights were delayed by four-five hours at the town's airport of Cilik Riwut. The Antara state news agency said the air pollution index in the town was at the "dangerous" level and people were having to wear protective face masks even in their homes.

Fires were also still raging in the Sebangau National Park in the province.

Indonesian task force

A task force of Indonesian officials arrived in Kalimantan on Sunday to assess the situation. Purwasto, head of forest fire control at Indonesia's environment ministry, told Reuters en route to Palangkaraya that the team would look at the situation for one or two days.

In Sumatra, haze stopped boats carrying food staples to remote parts of the province from navigating the Musi river, with visibility cut to 200 metres, Metro TV reported. Thousands of Muslims gathered in an open field on Bangka island, off Sumatra, to pray for rain, Antara reported.

This year's haze has rekindled memories of the smog that choked large areas of Southeast Asia in 1997-98, making many sick and costing local economies billions of dollars.

The fires over that period were estimated to have destroyed five million hectares (12 million acres) -- an area equivalent to Costa Rica.

In Malaysia, several areas in southern Johor state near Singapore were still recording unhealthy pollution levels on Sunday, while the situation in other areas was better. Thailand also reported light smoke in southern parts of the country and the governnment-run Thai News Agency said masks were given to people in Satun province.

Frustrated neighbours

Malaysian Plantation Industries and Commodities' Minister Peter Chin said the government would not protect any local plantation firms involved in open burning in Indonesia.

Timber and oil palm plantation companies are accused of lighting fires to clear land for planting. Farmers, too, use slash-and-burn methods, a traditional practice magnified by a growing population, demand for land and vast areas of forest that have been cleared in recent decades.

It is illegal to carry out slash-and-burn land clearing in Indonesia, but prosecutions take time and few have stuck.

Indonesian presidential spokesman, Andi Malarangeng, told Antara the country had taken the right steps to quell the fires, but said it was tough to contain fires in remote areas and it would welcome cooperation with neighbouring countries.

Indonesia's neighbours have been sounding increasingly frustrated over a situation that Jakarta has long vowed to fix.

Singapore's Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong was quoted as saying by Channel News Asia that the island state would register its concerns with Indonesia's foreign ministry. "I just hope that next year, the Indonesians will understand our concerns and do something about the haze, or do something about the fire before it is started by farmers and plantation owners", Goh said. (*)

Straits Times Online 11 Oct 06
Indonesia has neglected haze problem for too long. Does it really care?
Letter from Tan Chak Lim

Wake up, Indonesia. The choking haze is a perennial problem that has been neglected by Jakarta for too long.

It exposes the ineptness of the government, the greed of plantation operators in callous disregard of environmental concerns and the close relationship between business and politics. Hence the perfunctory enforcement of the relevant laws.

Nowhere else in the region is such wanton burning practised and tolerated in clearing land for farming even though the other countries also depend a lot on agriculture.

Brazil, many times the size of Indonesia, protects the Amazon forests against cattle barons and the like. It's doing some things right by the environment despite constant pressure to open more virgin land for commercial exploitation.

So, what's so special about Indonesia that it should habitually resort to primitive and un-neighbourly methods? Why is it that a country blessed with natural resources can't appreciate and manage them properly?

The current mud flow disaster in east Java illustrates the problem.

If Indonesia doesn't bother about the impact on its Asean neighbours, what about the consequences to its own people - the poor villagers and small-town folk who suffer the most from the haze? It seems they don't matter either.

I suggest President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his cabinet operate out of Kalimantan, the worst-hit area, for a week and experience the hazards and discomfort of the haze.

The question is how to prevent deliberate, large-scale burning in the first place, not how to extinguish the fires.

In this regard, our Singapore government and Kuala Lumpur are impotent.

It's a question the Indonesian government has failed repeatedly. More tragic is that it doesn't care that it has failed.

Meanwhile, our health and daily activities here depend on the whims of the pre-monsoon winds. And our two planned integrated resorts could be shrouded for two months a year. So much for transparency. But the winds may be merciful to us and all will be well?

Straits Times Online 11 Oct 06
Is there political will in Jakarta to stop the forest fires?
Letter from Daniel Koh Kah Soon

The annual visitation of haze from forest fires in Indonesia reached an unhealthy level last Saturday.

While the fire is raging and innocent people in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore suffer at the hands of irresponsible people who started the fires, it has been reported that the political leaders of Indonesia had thrown in the towel and said they could not do much about the problem.

Perhaps the problem is beyond the capability of Indonesia to manage alone. If this is the case, surely Asean has the resources to address the issue and arrest the problem, if Indonesia accepts the assistance of her neighbours.

One way to finance the policing of the indiscriminate burning of forests is to make the culprits pay for destroying and polluting the environment, especially if the culprits are big businesses with no social conscience.

This may not be easy.

But the bottom line is not whether the job of solving the problem is easy. It is whether Indonesia, as a major power in Southeast Asia, has the political will to do what is right and responsible, even if this means having the courage to enlist the assistance of other countries to stop a persistent problem.

Today Online 11 Oct 06
Clear skies, where there's a will
Power to turn the tide lies in everyone's pocket

Letter from Lee Swee Kim

I refer to Ms Frances Ong's idea of setting up a fund to provide plantation owners and farmers with incentives to clear the forest in other ways ("A clear solution to a hazy problem", Oct 10).

I suspect the only incentive likely to work is one that makes these agricultural folk realise that their livelihood can be hurt if they continue to clear land indiscriminately--the flip side of this incentive being an improvement of their profits if they behave responsibly.

Let's face it, global demand for oil palm is up for several reasons--it is useful, it is cheaper than other alternative plant oils, it is a healthier alternative to transfat oils and it has impressive biofuel potential.

Consumer demand is driving the conversion of swathes of tropical forest into a dangerous monoculture of palm oil--and it is the consumer who holds the key to preventing the annual region-wide haze that is pushing the world closer to the point of no return in global warming.

But the face of this consumer is a global one, not just those directly affected by the haze in South-east Asia.

Is this global consumer willing to boycott products and brands that use oil palm as an ingredient? Is this consumer willing to protest to the powers-that-be of his preference for palm oil produced in an environmentally-friendly manner (the way dolphin activists have demanded dolphin-friendly tuna)? Is the consumer willing to pay more for palm oil if land for it is cleared without burning forests?

The last thing that plantation owners and farmers need is more money to be thrown at them for incentives to use alternative methods to clear their land. That would be tantamount to casting pearls before swine--at least for now. The easiest, cheapest option will always be taken.

These people will only question the consequences of their actions when their own pockets begin to hurt. The power to turn the tide on the haze lies in everyone's pocket.

Consumers must make it known that they want palm oil to be produced in an environmentally responsible manner.

Yes, I agree with Ms Ong that the choice is clear, but will consumers make the effort to exercise that power? If the consumers don't care enough, why should the palm oil producers change their habits?

Press haze issue via Asean, or even the United Nations
Letter from Fok Kar Kee

The crux of the haze problem lies with the Indonesian government. They have to acknowledge the problem and address it.

The Indonesian government can have all the satellite photos they want on the location of the hot spots, but it's a matter of whether they want to enforce the law and prosecute the recalcitrant.

To the land-owners, it is about economics and a mindset. Clearing the land by burning is the most cost effective way.

It is incumbent upon these owners to clear their land in an environmentally safe manner--setting up a fund to "incentivise" them to do so is tantamount to subsidising their plantation business.

Our Government has to be more forceful with our neighbour to address this perennial problem. We can table it at the Asean forum, and if this gets nowhere, perhaps we can seek an international arena like the United Nations.

Train Indonesian soldiers to be fire-fighters
Letter from P Mathavan

I have some suggestions for our Indonesian brothers to consider so that this problem does not occur again:

Indonesia has a large army; train them to be fire-fighters. Formulate legislation to empower the army to arrest offenders. Plantation owners guilty of the crime should forfeit ownership.

Establish garrisons in all areas where slash-and-burn methods are being carried out so the army can respond to any offence immediately.

Recover part of the operational cost of maintaining the garrison from taxes paid by the plantation owners.

Rotate army units in these garrisons often so that they don't become too friendly with the owners.

Asean can help by setting up a fund to assist in training and setting up the logistics and infrastructure.

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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