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  Today Online 8 Nov 07
$1m action plan to fight haze

S'pore & Indonesia sign initiative to tackle forest fires
Sheralyn Tay

Straits Times 8 Nov 07
Tie-up with Indonesians to fight haze

Singapore to commit $1m on fire-risk warning stations and training schemes in Muaro Jambi
By Arti Mulchand

Channel NewsAsia 7 Nov 07
Singapore contributing S$1m to help tackle haze in Jambi, Indonesia

SINGAPORE : Singapore is providing S$1 million to an area in Indonesia's Jambi province to help tackle the haze.

The money is earmarked for training officials and providing technical equipment.

The assistance is part of a masterplan signed between Singapore and Indonesia focussing on fire prevention.

The haze which hit Singapore last year was said to be the worst in decades, so a plan has been in the pipeline since March to root out the problem.

To fight the haze, the first phase of the masterplan will see two stations set up in Jambi regency later in November.

The stations, costing some S$500,000, will automatically monitor the weather and air quality as well as measure the temperature.

The plan is to have the stations working by the next haze season from July.

Two batches of Jambi officials will also be trained in Singapore in the first quarter of next year.

They will be trained to read and interpret satellite pictures so as to locate possible fire hotspots.

Driving the bilateral masterplan is the National Environment Agency (NEA).

"The difference now is that we are working with a province - the local officials. We have gone down to the ground, talk to the farmers and plantation owners to understand where the gaps and weaknesses are, then we can work on specific action plans," said Lee Yuen Hee, CEO of NEA.

At this stage, the NEA plans a total of six or seven programmes over the next one or two years.

But the Jambi government recognises that local farmers need alternative livelihoods. It is drawing up programmes to develop higher income rubber and palm plantations as opposed to vegetable cultivation. It is also proposing fishing and tourism industries.

Singapore Food Industries has expressed an interest to develop the local fishing industry.

While all parties are happy with the plans to tackle the haze, changing mindsets remains a challenge.

"If we can institute reform in our ways of land clearing in particular, we can make the local farmers more productive," said Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia's State Minister of Environment.

Indonesia wants to use non-burning techniques to burn cleared vegetation. The country claims that it can turn the waste into fertiliser or compost.

Under the masterplan, the Jambi model can also be used for other fire-prone districts in Indonesia. - CNA /ls

Today Online 8 Nov 07
$1m action plan to fight haze

S'pore & Indonesia sign initiative to tackle forest fires
Sheralyn Tay

Singaporeans can keep their fingers crossed for the air to remain clear when haze season starts again in the middle of next year.

This is because concrete measures to fight and prevent forest fires in Sumatra will soon be launched under an action plan to counter the expected annual outbreak of haze.

Under the plan, Singapore will commit $1 million to efforts in fire prevention and training following the signing of a Letter of Intent here yesterday between the National Environment Agency (NEA) and Indonesia's State Ministry of Environment.

The plan realised about one year since the idea was first raised will kick off with three projects in Muaro Jambi, a vast 524,600-ha area about eight times the size of Singapore in South Sumatra's Jambi province, said NEA CEO Lee Yuen Hee.

The first project is to set up two fire-danger rating systems backed up by computerised equipment.

This will help Jambi officials assess the likelihood of fires, said Mr Lee.

This project, which will take up about half of Singapore's $1 million budget, will be implemented within the next eight months, in time to tackle the next haze season.

The second will be to train Jambi officials to read and interpret satellite images so that they can identify hot spots and mobilise quickly to tackle fires.

A total of 20 Jambi officials will be trained here in January and March.

The third project will review the ability of villagers and plantation owners to prevent fires. Where necessary, "we will help them enhance their capabilities", said Mr Lee. In time, three or four more programmes will be rolled out.

But both parties agreed that more must be done to help the 400,000 people living in Muaro Jambi.

Recognising that poverty is the "fundamental" problem behind forest fires, Mr Antony Zeldra Abidin, the Vice-Governor of the province, said the government needed to think of alternative steps to lessen the villagers' dependence on the land.

"The farmers do not have alternatives to clear the land without using fires," he said.

Steps to promote other forms of livelihood in areas including agriculture, aquaculture and tourism were also needed.

Muaro Jambi, being rich in archeological ruins and temples, had the potential to grow into a tourist attraction.

Already, Singaporean businesses like Singapore Food Industries are keen to invest in the development of fisheries, said Mr Lee.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim who, with his Indonesian counterpart, witnessed yesterday's signing, described it as "a very good start" towards tackling the problem.

Appreciating Singapore's support and cooperation, Mr Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia's State Minister for Environment, stressed that "environmental concerns cannot be settled by one country only".

Straits Times 8 Nov 07
Tie-up with Indonesians to fight haze

Singapore to commit $1m on fire-risk warning stations and training schemes in Muaro Jambi
By Arti Mulchand

SINGAPORE yesterday signed a Letter of Intent to kick-start joint anti-haze projects with a regency within Indonesia's Jambi province.

These projects, under the Muaro Jambi regency's masterplan, include, for a start:

# Building two fire-danger rating stations in the regency by the middle of next year;

# Training Jambi officers in interpreting satellite data; and

# Reviewing the regency's fire-fighting capabilities.

Muaro Jambi, one of Jambi's nine regencies, is eight times Singapore's size and is home to 400,000 people.

Fires set off to clear land at the start of the farmers' planting season in Jambi, as well as in Riau and South Sumatra provinces, have been the source of the smoky haze that blankets Singapore and South-east Asia during the mid-year dry season. Singapore escaped the haze this year, largely because winds blew the smoky pall elsewhere. Rains also helped.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim, pledging that Singapore would follow through on the masterplan, said other provinces could model masterplans along the lines of this one.

Singapore will commit $1 million towards the first programmes under the masterplan: Half the money will go into developing the fire-danger rating stations, which will warn of possible fire risks; and the remaining half will be spent on training and consultancy programmes.

More funds may be sought from the international community as well, said Dr Yaacob.

Mr Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia's State Minister for Environment, referring to last month's wildfires in California, noted that blazes were tough even for the 'strongest nation on earth', the United States, to handle. He noted that while Singapore escaped the haze as a result of Indonesia's halving the number of hot spots, and the weather, this positive situation was 'not stable'.

Jambi's vice-governor Antony Zeidra Abidin said solving the problem also required creating alternative sources of income - in aquaculture and tourism, for example - for the farmers if slash-and-burn cultivation is outlawed.

Remarking that the problem had no quick solutions, Dr Yaacob said a decade or two was a 'realistic' time frame: 'You cannot solve this overnight. You're asking an entire community to change their lifestyle...But I think it's a start.'

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