Indonesia intensifying efforts to tackle rising number of hot spots

Woo Sian Boon Today Online 26 Sep 2013;

SINGAPORE — The Indonesian authorities have informed the National Environment Agency (NEA) that they are intensifying operations to tackle the rising number of hot spots in Sumatra, even as ASEAN ministers met yesterday in Surabaya to address transboundary haze pollution.

At their 14th Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on the Environment and 9th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, the ministers of all 10 ASEAN countries agreed to set up a task force to review existing alert levels and formulate trigger points for action to be taken when the potential for a transboundary haze occurs.

The task force will comprise members from the panel of experts on Fire and Haze Assessment and Coordination, which was set up in 2005.

Posting on his Facebook page after the meeting yesterday, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the ministers reaffirmed Singapore’s recommendation to adopt the ASEAN Haze Monitoring System (HMS), including concession maps of haze-prone regions.

The HMS platform — which Singapore developed — uses hot spot data, high-resolution satellite pictures and concession maps to enable the identification of errant companies accountable for fires on their land.

Dr Balakrishnan said the relevant countries have agreed to take prompt action based on decisions to be made at the ASEAN summit next month.

“We have to put the culprits on notice that they will be identified and penalised. Otherwise this problem will recur year after year,” he said.

Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam also contributed to the ASEAN Transboundary Haze Pollution Control Fund, with the aim of realising a pledge of providing an initial seed contribution of US$500,000 (S$626,500).

Singapore experienced slightly hazy conditions yesterday due to a change in wind direction. The NEA said the hot spot count in Sumatra rose to 281 on Tuesday, but since yesterday has decreased to 71, with 45 in South Sumatra and 11 in Riau.

For its 24-hour PSI forecast, it said the PSI is expected to be in the “good” band, while the 24-hour PM2.5 is expected to be slightly elevated.

While thundery showers are forecast in the late morning and early afternoon, a slight haze may still be experienced if winds continue blowing from the south-southwest direction.

On yesterday’s transboundary haze meeting, non-government organisation Greenpeace Southeast Asia called on the Singapore and Malaysian governments to “take strong steps” against errant companies, noting that companies based in these two countries have been implicated.

“Every measure must be made so that illegal behaviour can be publicly monitored and punished. Companies should not be allowed to avoid responsibility simply by pointing to their zero-burning policies or the complexity of Indonesia’s opaque mapping systems,” said the NGO’s Forest Campaigner, Mr Yuyun Indradi.