No haze from South Sumatra this year, Indonesian governor promises

Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 6 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE: Even as climatologists expect drier weather to hit the region later in July, Indonesia’s South Sumatran governor Alex Noerdin promised that there would be no haze originating from his province for this year and the next couple of years.

“I guarantee there is no fire ... no haze from South Sumatra province this year, and the next year, and the next year," Mr Noerdin pledged at the fourth Sustainable World Resources dialogue here on Thursday (Apr 6).

Indonesia's head of the Peatland Restoration Agency, Nazir Foead, made a similar promise during last year's edition of the dialogue, saying there was "zero chance" that the region would experience the same bout of haze in 2016 as it did the previous year.

Fires in the province’s forests, along with those in Riau, Jambi and Kalimantan, sparked one of the region’s worst haze crisis in 2015. In South Sumatra itself, 700,000ha forests and peatland were damaged from the blaze, the governor said.

With international support, including Singapore's, there have been various efforts to put out the fires. The Indonesian authorities have also put in place tighter measures to prevent a repeat of the choking haze two years ago.

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, who was at the dialogue, outlined some of these in his speech. For instance, it has put in place a five-year moratorium that halts the draining and clearing of new peatland, including the existing concession land owned by plantation companies.

Mr Masagos said that the efforts have paid off, noting that there were only over 100 hotspots last year as compared to thousands in 2015.

Riau and Jambi provinces have also taken quick action to combat fires this year, caused by dry weather, he said.

"Indonesia acted promptly by declaring a state of emergency in Riau on Jan 24. This allowed for the timely deployment of resource and tighter coordination between the central and provincial authorities in containing the fires", he added.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs chairman Simon Tay, who spoke at the conference, also said Indonesia has "done better". “It realises the costs for itself are incredibly high. Estimates have come up that Indonesia suffered US$17 billion (S$23.8 billion) in damage due to the fires and haze in 2015."

However, Associate Professor Tay cautioned that "blue skies are not guaranteed”. Industry experts, think tanks and meteorologists have attributed haze-free skies last year to wetter weather.

But Mr Noerdin was confident. “We already proved this last year with our efforts in the field. So there was no fire last year. For this year, we’re strengthening our efforts.”

For example, more than 160 villages in South Sumatra have now been trained - from the head of the villages down to its people - to handle fires and even prevent them at the onset. They are also given fire-extinguishing equipment, he said.

“The most important stakeholders are the people. We have to socialise the people not to burn the forests for small plantations, but also to guard them,” he added. “They must be given the knowledge of how important forests are for the future, not just for this generation.”

Four hundred thousand hectares of burned land in the province are currently being restored with the help of local and international non-governmental organisations, Mr Noerdin said.

- CNA/mz

No haze for Singapore this year from Sumatran fires: Governor
SIAU MING EN Today Online 7 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE — Despite forecasts of a hotter and longer dry season, the Governor of South Sumatra has pledged that Singapore and the region will not experience haze arising from forest fires in the Indonesian province this year.

“This year is more dangerous than 2015 because the dry season is longer and … quite hot compared with 2015. But I guarantee there is no fire, there is no haze,” said Governor Alex Noerdin during a panel discussion at the Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources on Thursday (April 6). It was organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Transboundary haze, a long-standing problem in South-east Asia, is largely caused by the drainage of carbon-rich peatland, as well as fires started by farmers and companies to clear land for agriculture and industrial plantations.

El Nino, which causes dry weather conditions, is expected to return in the later half of the year, and this could result in the escalation of hotspot activities. Between September and November 2015, Singapore experienced its worst haze episode, where the Pollutant Standards Index had hit hazardous levels.

Last year, however, the skies here were largely clear of the haze partly due to the wetter weather.

There were just over a hundred hotspots in Indonesia, compared with thousands in 2015.

Speaking to the media separately after the panel discussion, Mr Noerdin noted that during the raging fires in 2015, at least five countries, including Singapore, had stepped in to help extinguish the fires in South Sumatra.

Since then, his team has been making preparations and efforts to prevent such fires.

They include canal-blocking, which will raise water levels to sustain the water composition in the dry peat soil and prevent it from burning easily.

Villagers were trained and given the necessary equipment to extinguish and prevent fires, as well as shown the alternatives to the slash-and-burn method to clear land.

And they have succeeded in these efforts, said Mr Noerdin, noting that there were no fires last year.

“This year, we are just strengthening our efforts. I guarantee that there (will be) no fires, that means no haze, from South Sumatra province this year and next year, and the next year,” he added.

In his keynote address at the dialogue, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli noted that provincial governments play a critical role in tackling the haze problem.

The South Sumatra province has taken an exemplary role by adopting a multi-stakeholder approach towards the sustainable management of forested lands, he added.

For instance, more than 2,700 independent smallholders, whose lands cover 5,500ha in South Sumatra, received the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification in June last year.

This makes them the world’s largest individual group of independent smallholders to be RSPO-certified.

Malaysian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, who also delivered a keynote address, told the media later that while his country has not dropped the idea of adopting a law similar to Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, there are issues to be worked out.

In 2015, Malaysia said it was considering enacting similar laws, and Dr Wan Junaidi said on Thursday that the Malaysian Attorney-General’s Chambers had discussed this with its Singaporean counterpart.

However, the implementation of such transboundary laws is not as simple as Malaysia had initially thought.

For example, there is the question of how owners of errant firms will not be caught as long as they do not enter the countries implementing such laws.

“If we have the law, and the law is not effective, it doesn’t mean anything to us. Then, it becomes a political problem for us, (with people asking) why are you not enforcing the law,” he said.

Instead, Malaysia felt that diplomacy was a better option, such as meeting with countries in the region to discuss possible solutions, Dr Wan Junaidi added.

Indonesia praised for curbing haze, but more challenges ahead
Adisti Sukma Sawitri The Jakarta Post 6 Apr 17;

Singaporean Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli bin Masagos Mohamad has congratulated Indonesia on its success in reducing land and forest fires last year.

The accomplishment is a direct result of positive measures the country has taken to recover from devastating haze in 2015, he said.

"In 2016, there were just over 100 hot spots as compared to many thousands in 2015," he said during the fourth Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources on Thursday.

He added that longer-term measures, such as a moratorium plan on new licenses to establish oil palm concessions, should still be put into action despite the success.

Widespread fires in 2015 lead to Indonesia’s worst-ever haze crisis, which angered neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia, and caused Rp 221 trillion (US$16.58 billion) in economic losses to the archipelago.

The fires, which damaged 2.6 million hectares of land and forests, claimed the lives of 24 people and brought on respiratory problems to hundreds of thousands of residents across Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs chairman Simon Tay warned, however, that another challenge would test Indonesia this year, with the weather phenomenon El NiƱo expected to trigger a longer dry season starting in July.

“There is a need for all parties across the agroforestry sector – companies, buyers and sellers — to work together to address the problem,” he said.

Singapore lauds Indonesia`s efforts in handling forest fires
Antara 8 Apr 17;

Singapore (ANTARA News) - Countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are contributing to achieving a smoke-free zone by 2020, and Indonesia has taken countermeasures to handle land and forest fires in several hotspots during 2016.

"Indonesia has taken positive steps in addressing several hotspots during the past year. In 2016, there were hundreds of hotspots. This number decreased as compared to that in 2015 during which the number of hotspots had reached several thousand," Singaporean Minister of Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli stated at the 4th Singapore Dialogue for a Sustainable World Resources in Singapore on Thursday (Apr 6).

According to Zulkifli, the provinces of Riau and Jambi were ravaged by forest fires in mid-January of 2017 due to the dry weather, and Indonesia quickly declared an emergency status on January 24, 2017.

He pointed out that this action enabled the rapid deployment of resources and coordination between the central and local governments in dealing with the fires.

According to the minister, another important measure taken by Indonesia was adopting a long-term action plan to address land and forest fires. In 2016, the Indonesian government had announced a five-year moratorium on the issuance of new permits for palm oil concessions.

The moratorium will prevent the lands from draining and protect the carbon-rich peatlands. The moratorium extends to the concession plantations.

"The UN Environment Program Executive Director Erik Solheim recently praised Indonesia, calling the moratorium as a positive and historic decision, both for Indonesia and to the global efforts to tackle climate change," Zulkifli emphasized.

He added that when the central government is actively addressing the forest fires, the provincial administration also plays an important role.

Zulkifli noted that South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin had played an exemplary role by applying the Green Growth Development concept.

"As you have heard, the plan adopts a multi-stakeholder approach that leads to the sustainable management of forest land," he explained.

In June 2016, more than 2,700 small, independent farmers, managing a land area of 5,500 hectares in South Sumatra, received a certificate of Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

"By far, this is the largest independent farmers group to have obtained the RSPO certificate in the world," Zulkifli pointed out.(*)

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