Think-tank to launch haze tracking portal next year

Hetty Musfirah Abdul Khamid Channel NewsAsia 6 Nov a4;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) is looking to launch a haze tracking portal to plug the information gap, in efforts to clamp down on errant parties causing transboundary haze affecting the region.

The think-tank revealed its plans during a roundtable discussion with about 40 stakeholders from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore on Thursday (Nov 6).

The portal aims to complement similar efforts by the World Resource Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which rely on satellite tracking and ground monitoring efforts to boost accountability and transparency within the region. Satellite images, hotspot coordinates and concession maps will be made available for the public to know who is responsible for fires.

SIIA's chairman, Simon Tay, said: "First is to source the map. So that is why we brought some experts and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) who have access or can get access to those maps. The second is to do our best to have a panel that will kind of verify the maps, to knock out the ones that are obviously wrong and then to put them up."

He added: "At this present time, governments have asked for a haze monitoring system, but because Indonesia and Malaysia would not release official maps, the government and ASEAN cannot move. We are then left with a large number of western NGOs that have got some maps and then of course, some companies who release their own maps.

"So in that sense, we do not have an ASEAN base - a fairly neutral player who is neither a company nor a true NGO - to really have a consolidated portal with some effort to verify the information on that portal. So that is where a think-tank like SIIA can try to help."

The portal is expected to be ready by the first quarter of next year.

Illegal burning activities in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan are often cited as the cause for transboundary haze that has affected the region since 1997. In August this year, Singapore passed a law where companies can be fined up to S$2 million should they be found guilty of contributing to the smog.

Companies in the oil palm sector, which has traditionally been associated with the haze, said they have stepped up efforts to ensure compliance with the new law.

"We have recently teamed up with other companies to use technology to step up the monitoring of our perimeters and to basically keep an eye on what is happening on the ground," said Colin Lee, the director of corporate affairs at Cargill Tropical Palm. "Because if anything were to happen, we have the documentary proof in place to show that we are not responsible for any hotspots as well."


Stakeholders, including NGOs, that attended the roundtable discussion were generally supportive of the move, but some raised concerns over its implementation given the difficulty in obtaining concession maps, which are critical to tracking down those responsible for the haze.

There is hope that under the new Indonesian government, work on the "One Map" initiative, which aims to collate forest-licensing and land-use information, will be sped up.

"They have already gathered all the different information from the different ministries and consolidated it into one map," said Fitrian Ardiansyah, executive director of Pelangi. "Unfortunately or fortunately, it has only been 68 per cent verified, so they need to go further in order to have 100 consolidated maps. So now that Indonesia has a new government, it is up to the new government to integrate this map into their own policies."

He added: "In the old days, several ministries would have their different maps so if you want to prosecute a particular company, it is quite difficult. So which map do you want to refer to? But with one single initiative map ... you will be able to use it to be able to do anything, including land use planning and prosecution, if they are found to be guilty of forest and land fires, for example."

- CNA/kk/ek