Clear skies likely despite haze season: Indonesian official

Mr Nazir Foead, chief of Indonesia's Peatland Restoration Agency.
Mr Nazir Foead, chief of Indonesia's Peatland Restoration Agency. PHOTO: ST FILE

The haze season is looming, but Singapore will likely enjoy clear skies even after it sets in next month, a top Indonesian official said yesterday.

"(Considering) the prediction with the drought, with the preparation that the government is making, and the re-wetting activities... I would say, there should be no more haze going to neighbours," said Mr Nazir Foead, chief of Indonesia's Peatland Restoration Agency.

He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Global Landscapes Forum - a conference on peatlands organised by the Indonesia-based Centre for International Forestry Research in Jakarta.

"Fires will still happen, smoke will come out, but they can be put out immediately - so they wouldn't result in transboundary haze," he added.

This forecast comes just before the annual dry season in Indonesia from June to October, when haze from forest fires caused by land clearance activities there clouds the region every year.

But this year is unlikely to be as bad as 2015, when Singapore experienced the worst haze on record. That year, the El Nino weather phenomenon caused fires to burn harder and for longer.

The crisis spurred Indonesia to take action. The agency that Mr Nazir leads, for example, was set up in January last year to restore some 2 million ha of peatland by 2020.

In an update yesterday, Mr Nazir said about 200,000ha was restored last year.

He said about half of the 2 million ha of degraded peatland that Indonesia plans to restore is in concessions managed by large companies. The Indonesian government is keeping close watch over them to ensure compliance, he said.

But Mr Nazir said consumers and investors in Singapore too have a part to play to reduce haze. "You will be surprised to see how many Singapore investments are involved in driving the peat swamp conversion - money from Singapore," he said.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said Singapore and Singapore-based companies are both subject to the Republic's recently enacted Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, which aims to punish those responsible for causing or condoning fires if they result in unhealthy levels of haze here.

"If (they) want to invest in peatlands for agribusiness, then they have to be mindful and responsible as to how the peatlands are used," said Associate Professor Tan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2017, with the headline 'Clear skies likely despite haze season: Indonesian official'. Print Edition | Subscribe