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  Straits Times 21 Jun 07
Hot spots in Indonesia cut as part of battle against haze
By Azhar Ghani

PlanetArk 21 Jun 07
Indonesia Pledges to Halve Forest Fires This Year
Story by Ahmad Pathoni

Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 07
Five SE Asian countries confident in dealing with haze

Channel NewsAsia 20 Jan 07
Indonesia aims to halve haze-causing fires

JAKARTA - Indonesia aims to halve the number of forest fires this year in an effort to tackle the choking haze which affects the region annually, a minister said Wednesday after Southeast Asian talks on the issue.

Environment ministers from Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore and deputy ministers from Malaysia and Thailand held talks in Jambi on Sumatra island to track progress on mapping out plans to reduce the haze, which triggers health alerts and damages tourism.

"We are targeting a drop of about 50 percent in forest fires but we are entering the dry season between July and August so we have to increase our alertness," deputy environment minister Masnellyarti Hilman told AFP. "We explained the efforts that we've taken to prevent a repeat of the choking haze ... and they praised our efforts," Hilman said.

A statement released after the meeting said that so far this year, the number of so-called hotspots had dropped by 58 percent compared to last year.

But the dry season, when plantation companies and farmers typically do their burning to clear land, has yet to begin.

Meteorologists are also predicting a wetter than usual monsoon this year, which should help control the fires. "There will be an increase in rainfall of 10 to 20 percent (above average) this year," meteorologist Suardi, from the meteorology and geophysics agency, told AFP.

He forecast that August and September would be the driest months this year.

Neighbouring nations affected by the haze have agreed to "adopt a fire-prone district" from the archipelago in a bid to cut the pollution, Hilman said.

"Malaysia agreed to assist Rokan Hilir in Riau and Singapore will assist Jambi," Hilman said. "They have presented an action plan -- the review process should be finished by the end of this month."

Indonesia also presented to the meeting a plan to include a "zero-burning" criteria in certification processes of forest products within Association of Southeast Asian Nations members and a standardised communication procedure during crisis periods, Hilman said.

Forestry minister Malam Sambat Kaban said earlier this month that Indonesia was prepared to battle the fires. "Haze patrols are ready in every potentially hit province. Helicopters will operate two hours every day for the early detection of suspected areas and put out fires when they find them," he said.

Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand agreed to create a committee to oversee the implementation of concrete actions to address the forest fires and the resulting haze during a meeting in November. The haze hit its worst level in 1997-1998 and cost the Southeast Asian region an estimated nine billion dollars by disrupting air travel and other business activities. - AFP/ir

Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 07
Five SE Asian countries confident in dealing with haze

JAMBI, Sumatra: Five Southeast Asian countries have expressed confidence that they are now more prepared to deal with the haze that envelopes the region annually.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Thailand say they are on top of the haze situation this year. Since last October, their environment ministers and officials have held three meetings, including the latest in Jambi, Sumatra. The series of intense discussions were prompted by the worst haze to envelope the region in almost a decade.

Indonesia's Environment Minister said that well before the dry season starts in about a month from now, his country has already put in place preventive measures. "The prevention is being done, has been done and will be done... and the extinguishing of the fire will be done... in the initial stages, so that it does not blow out of control," said Rahmat Witoelar, Indonesian Environment Minister.

This year, the Jakarta government has set aside some US$80 million to prevent and suppress land and forest fires - the main cause of the annual haze.

It is determined to halve the 100,000 hotspots found in the country's forests and plantations last year.

"I think this is a very good development compared to six or seven months ago. By that measure, I'm very happy with the development. What we're looking forward to now is the implementation of the master plan," said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore's Minister for Environment and Water Resources.

Singapore has developed a haze prevention master plan for Muara Jambi in Sumatra, a regency with a vast area of peat land that easily catches fire during the dry spell. The plan is ready for implementation once the Indonesian government gives the go-ahead.

"From day one they've been working with us together on the master plan. I think they just want to understand the details, how it fits into Indonesia's Plan of Action. And there are other ministries involved - the forestry ministry, the agriculture ministry," said Dr Ibrahim.

Malaysia is working on a similar plan to help the Riau province in Sumatra tackle the haze problem.

Among the plantations in Indonesia, blamed for starting fires by clearing land using the slash and burn method, several were Malaysian owned.

With Indonesia's action plan beginning to kick in and assistance from neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia soon to follow, environment officials are upbeat about this year's haze situation. While there are no promises of fire-free areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan, there is certainly confidence that there will be no repeat of last year's haze that choked the region. - CNA/yy

Straits Times 21 Jun 07
Hot spots in Indonesia cut as part of battle against haze
By Azhar Ghani IN JAMBI

WITH the annual forest-clearing season set to begin in a few weeks, Indonesia appears to be making progress in its attempts to keep the dreaded haze in check this year.

In previous years, fires started by farmers and plantation owners during massive land-clearing have sent acrid smoke billowing across neighbouring countries.

So far this year, Indonesia has reduced the number of hot spots in the country by more than half.

A statement, released after a meeting of representatives from the five worst-hit Asean countries - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand - said that so far this year, the number of hot spots had dropped by 58 per cent compared to last year. This was better than its 50 per cent target.

Meteorologists are also predicting a wetter-than-usual monsoon this year, which should help control the fires. At a press conference yesterday following the meeting, Indonesian Deputy Environment Minister Masnellyarti Hilman said concrete steps had been taken to promote zero-burning practices.

Plantation owners have been warned to obey the no-burning law passed in 2004, she said. Small farmers, meanwhile, have been given compost-making equipment to process waste vegetation from land-clearing, so that they will not resort to burning.

Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said Jakarta may accept help offered by other countries affected by the haze, including Singapore, despite recent signals that it would not.

'In general, if it's not really needed, we will pre-empt any foreign help if we can do it ourselves. But all help is welcome,' he said.

In fact, he said Indonesia would sign agreements to help tackle the problem with both Singapore and Malaysia by next week.

Jakarta's national plan, which it rolled out in February, is backed by some 800 billion rupiah (S$136 million) from its own coffers to prevent and fight the fires.

Ms Masnellyarti also highlighted the progress made in the efforts of Singapore in Sumatra's Jambi province, and Malaysia in Riau. At yesterday's meeting, environment ministers and other representatives welcomed the 'significant progress' being made by Indonesia.

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said: 'Indonesia's Plan of Action has already kicked in.'

On the reduction in hotspots, he said: 'I think this a very good development compared to six or seven months ago. By that measure, I'm very happy with the development. What we're looking forward to now is the implementation of the master plan.'

PlanetArk 21 Jun 07
Indonesia Pledges to Halve Forest Fires This Year
Story by Ahmad Pathoni

JAKARTA - Indonesia pledged on Thursday to reduce forest fires by up to half this year, as Southeast Asian environment ministers met on Sumatra island to discuss ways to stop smoke billowing across their region.

The "haze" from fires on Sumatra and Borneo islands spread across large areas of Southeast Asia for months last year, polluting skies and frustrating Indonesia's neighbours.

"Our target is to reduce them by 40-50 percent. We may never be able to eradicate forest fires completely," Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar told Reuters by telephone after meeting counterparts from Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand in Sumatra's Jambi province.

"Forest fires also happen in Hollywood, Malibu in the United States and in Sydney, it's a natural phenomenon. We have to be realistic. What we can do is prevent the repeat of last year's scale," Witoelar said.

Most of the fires are deliberately lit by farmers or by timber and plantation companies, many of which are owned by Malaysian and Singapore firms.

Indonesia's weather agency has predicted that the dry season on parts of Sumatra and the Indonesian portion of Borneo will start in June. Witoelar said that at the meeting the ministers agreed on an action plan which included teaching farmers to avoid slash-and-burn practices and provide them with farming equipment.

Indonesia has earmarked 700 billion rupiah (US$78 million) for this year's efforts, he said. Singapore had submitted to Indonesia a masterplan that covered fire prevention and suppression, legislation and enforcement as well as regional and international cooperation to fight haze, he added.

Indonesia and Malaysia were also cooperating in training personnel, fire prevention, peatland management and public education as part of efforts to tackle the fires.

A statement issued at the end of the meeting said Indonesia's efforts since the start of ther year had reduced the number of hotspots indicating potential forest fires by 58 percent from the previous year. The ministers "recognise the urgency and importance of regional preparedness to tackle land and forest fires and transboundary haze pollution in the coming dry season," the statement said.

Southeast countries have in previous years held a series of meetings to try to tackle haze, although they have appeared powerless when the fires flare up.

According to Greenpeace, Indonesia had the fastest pace of deforestation in the world between 2000-2005, with an area of forest equivalent to 300 soccer pitches destroyed every hour. Indonesia has lost 72 percent of its intact ancient forests and half of what remains is threatened by logging, forest fires and clearances for palm oil plantations, Greenpeace said.

A report sponsored by the World Bank and Britain's development arm released in June said Indonesia was among the world's top three greenhouse gas emitters because of deforestation, peatland degradation and forest fires. (US$1=8920 Rupiah)

Related articles on Singapore: haze
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