Indonesia's V-P urges neighbours to work together to tackle haze

Haze is seen over the Jakarta skyline on May 17, 2016.
Haze is seen over the Jakarta skyline on May 17, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has urged neighbouring countries to work together to help tackle land and forest fires in the country.

"If they wish, let's work together for the sake of common interest. Singapore and Malaysia have previously helped, and that's good. Don't just blame. It's not as if we like it, not at all," he was quoted as saying by Detikcom news website on Friday (July 22).

Mr Kalla, along with Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, were in Siak district in Riau province to commemorate World Environment Day. Riau province, second closest to Singapore, was the worst hit by last year's haze, with air quality reaching hazardous levels and flights going to and leaving the province disrupted.

The fires, largely blamed on oil palm and pulp and paper companies, had caused one of the worst environmental crises for South-east Asia in recent history, one that brought Indonesia on the brink of a national emergency in 2015.

But the government has stepped up their efforts this year, keeping the number of hotspots low so far.

Mr Kalla emphasised that the Indonesian authorities have "worked very hard" to deal with the problem, particularly in the provinces of Riau and West Sumatra.

"Do we like the haze? No, right? But it happens as a result of nature and acts of people," he said.

Efforts by the government included restoring peatlands and providing necessary equipment, he said.

He also said helicopters are on standby at the airport and troops, police as well as local government and communities are ready to douse the flames.

Mr Kalla noted that the people in Riau and Jambi were the first to "suffer" when haze hit.

"Like I have always said, neighbouring countries must be fair. If the situation is good, they get good, cool air. But if the situation is bad, we are equally in difficulty," he added.

"There's more suffering here, than there (the region)."