Indonesia ready to prevent a repeat of haze crisis: Masagos

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said he received assurance from regional and national officials in Indonesia that the transboundary haze crisis in 2015 will not happen again.
Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said he received assurance from regional and national officials in Indonesia that the transboundary haze crisis in 2015 will not happen again.Kevin Lim

JAKARTA - Indonesia is ready to prevent a repeat of the transboundary haze crisis, which last occurred two years ago, resulting in record air pollution levels across the region.

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said he received the assurance from regional and national officials in Indonesia during his two-day visit to Indonesia this week.

"We have already seen good results last year that there was little haze that came to Singapore and I complimented the efforts the government (and) President Jokowi who… personally carried out meetings with the various apparatus of the government, locally and nationally to ensure the recurrence of the haze that happened in 2015 does not happen again," said Mr Masagos, referring to Indonesian President Joko Widodo by his popular nickname.

The minister, who was speaking to reporters in Jakarta on Tuesday (July 11) before he returned to Singapore, had met senior officials from Palembang in South Sumatra province, as well as the capital Jakarta, to reaffirm Singapore's commitment and cooperation with Indonesia in addressing environmental challenges.

In 2015, raging flames from land burning in Kalimantan and Sumatra led to a transboundary haze crisis that was not only the worst on record, but had also pushed Indonesia to the verge of a national emergency.

The choking haze led to widespread efforts by the government to prevent and suppress land and forest fires early and these have kept the number of hot spots in Indonesia low so far, although experts have said favourable weather conditions have also helped.

Mr Masagos noted the assurances from his meetings with South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin and Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto, "that there have been a lot of processes and resources that have been put in place to prevent a recurrence of the haze this year".

He also said Singapore respects Indonesia's wish to tackle the haze issue on its own and recognises that its efforts have seen some good results with little or no haze affecting Singapore last year.

Singapore, however, is ready to offer assistance and, should it be needed, assets such as a C-130 aircraft from the air force can be sent to Indonesia to conduct cloud-seeding to help put out fires, he added.

"We also stand ready to ship our SCDF… as well as to provide accurate satellite maps to know where the hotspots are occurring - wherever these are activated by the Indonesian government, we will stand ready to help," he added.

Mr Masagos' visit comes just two months before Indonesia and Singapore are set to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties and his trip was also meant to underscore the importance of close relations. "President Jokowi will be visiting Singapore in September and all of us want to celebrate this on a positive note," he added.

The minister also met Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, who offered to cooperate with Singapore in areas of waste-management, waste-to-energy management, and water management with the various ministries under his charge.

Mr Wiranto said during his meeting with Mr Masagos that there is a need to strengthen the relationship between the two countries regardless of political and economic circumstances, "because good relations and political or economic success go hand-in-hand".

He also thanked Singapore for its willingness to assist Indonesia on its fight against forest fires. "Cooperation on this issue is needed now and in the future because the haze brings suffering to people," said Mr Wiranto. "I hope cooperation on this issue can be taken to the next level."