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  Channel NewsAsia 1 Mar 07
ASEAN ministers to review 12-year-old haze efforts
By Channel NewsAsia's Indonesia Bureau Chief Sujadi Siswo

BRUNEI: For more than a decade, ASEAN Environment Ministers have had regular meetings to discuss ways to tackle the trans boundary haze pollution in the region.

Dozens of committees and task forces were formed but very little achieved. Forests, peat lands and plantations in Indonesia continue to be razed - sending smoke annually into neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.

But now the Environment Ministers, who are meeting in Brunei Darussalam, want to cut to the chase and focus their efforts directly on the ground.

"12-15 years we have a lot of sub-committees - nothing has moved. Since October 2006 when we felt the urgency of the haze problem, we convened the meeting in Pekan Baru - a lot moved in the last 6 months. So what it shows is there's political will," said Singapore's Environment Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim.

Singapore's plan to collaborate directly with a province in Jambi, Sumatra to tackle forests fires has inspired the grouping. Focus will now be given on such projects with a view of replicating it to other areas in Indonesia.

Said Azmi Khalid, Malaysia's Envrironment Minister, "Giving information about haze - everybody is having it. Talking about climate and weather we all have. We all have satellites - we know. Hot spots - we know. But how do you go down and get it done - this is what we're going to do."

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said, "To put in simple words - clean-up our act, get the things going. First of all reduce the number of committees and meetings, focus on the haze agreement, develop the work plan and then start implementing things on the ground."

This renewed sense of urgency also saw Indonesia coming out with a plan of action to tackle forest fires in its territories.

Jakarta is confident that its whopping US$150 million plan can halve the incidence of forest fires this year.

This is the twelfth time the ASEAN Environment Ministers have met to tackle the haze in the region. Indonesia has yet to ratify the Trans Boundary Haze Agreement, neither has the Philippines.

Also the Haze Fund has not taken off the ground - most member countries say they are still considering the voluntary contribution.

But despite these setbacks, ASEAN Ministers have decided to press on with efforts on the ground - a move which they are confident will bring about measurable change when the next dry season comes around again. - CNA/yy

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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