Indonesia must keep its word
A regional agreement is in place to prevent annual haze from forest fires, but the main source of the problem has so far refused to ratify it. During the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Brunei last week, it was unnecessary to issue a long statement on the annual problem of haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia. It is meaningless for the regional trade bloc to do so unless words are backed up by action to honour and implement remedial provisions that are already in place.
The haze caused by burning trees to clear land for palm-oil plantations in Sumatra is still polluting the air in neighbouring countries. Five of the ten countries in the group are suffering from the problem, with Singapore and Malaysia facing the most serious air pollution in a decade.
The issue is not new in this region. South-east Asian countries have lived with the problem since 1997. Ministers and concerned officials have sat down together many times over the years to seek a solution. But the haze keeps returning almost every year as farmers and businesses burn and clear land for replanting. In many cases, wind and rain help solve the problem naturally, but it seems that the authorities enjoy only talking and not acting to resolve the issue.
The outcome of a series of talks after the 1998 haze crisis gave the birth to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002. This pact requires members of the bloc to cooperate on developing and implementing measures to prevent, monitor and mitigate haze pollution by controlling forest fires; developing early-warning systems; exchanging information and technology; and providing mutual assistance when the problem reaches crisis level. Under the pact, member countries must respond promptly to a request for relevant information sought by other states that are, or might be, affected by the haze, with a view to minimising the consequences.