The haze triggered by fires raging across Sumatra is not an act of nature, but man-made, National Environment Agency (NEA) chief executive Andrew Tan said yesterday.
Hence, Indonesia needs to take more decisive action against errant companies, Mr Tan told The Straits Times, echoing remarks he made at a two-hour meeting held here yesterday afternoon between Singapore officials and their Indonesian counterparts.
Singapore, he added, could work together with Indonesia to map its satellite images of hot spots onto land concession maps of affected areas in Sumatra, and track those responsible.
"I urged Indonesia to take more decisive action, because the situation is likely to deteriorate in the next few weeks and at the onset of the dry season if no further efforts are taken," he said.
"We registered that given the weather conditions, the burning actions are man-made and therefore can and should be averted. We pressed them to take our concerns seriously."
The emergency meeting at Indonesia's Foreign Ministry followed telephone calls between foreign and environment ministers from both countries on Tuesday. In addition, Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishman is due to travel to Jakarta today.
Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit a record high of 371 at 1pm yesterday, an hour before the Jakarta meeting began.
"On Singapore's part, we conveyed the very serious concerns that Singaporeans have over the deteriorating haze situation... how this was unprecedented and (how) PSI levels deteriorated very quickly," Mr Tan said.
"(We) are now at a stage where air quality is at hazardous levels. So we can't take this lightly."
Singapore also proposed to bring forward a sub-regional ministerial meeting on transboundary haze set for August, he said.
Indonesian officials were asked to share if they have information about Singapore companies involved in illegal burning so that Singapore can act as well.
"We had a frank discussion with host agencies," Mr Tan said.
The Singapore side was updated regarding a ministerial meeting yesterday morning that saw a national task force on haze being set up. Measures agreed on included stepping up firefighting efforts and enforcement against errant firms. Immediate steps included cloud-seeding to induce rain.
The task force, chaired by Coordinating Welfare Minister Agung Laksono, includes the ministers for foreign affairs, the environment and forestry. Mr Agung told reporters that cloud-seeding would take place as soon as it was feasible, starting today. The salt is ready, the planes are in place, he said, but there must be clouds.
He noted that the burning was not always above ground. Some 850ha of land had been ablaze in recent days, and fires in some 650ha had been put out, he said.
The government is investigating which companies are responsible and will take action against those found culpable. "But there must be a process," he said.