JAKARTA - There should be no haze from Indonesia affecting the region this year, Mr Nazir Foead, the chief of Indonesia's Peatland Restoration Agency, said on Thursday (May 18).
"(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," Mr Nazir told reporters on the sidelines of an international conference on peatlands, organised by the Indonesia-based Centre for International Forestry Research.
His prediction comes after South Sumatra province governor Alex Noerdin said last month that there will be no haze coming from his province this year.
Their predictions come just before the annual dry season in Indonesia that usually stretches from June to October. During this period, haze from forest fires caused by land clearance activities clouds the region.
But it is unlikely that the dry season will this year be as bad as in 2015, when Singapore experienced the worst haze on record. That year, a weather phenomenon known as El Nino - associated with dry and hot weather - caused fires there to burn harder and for longer.
The 2015 crisis spurred Indonesia to take action. The Peatland Restoration Agency that Mr Nazir leads, for example, was set up in January 2016 to restore about 2 million ha of peatland in seven provinces by 2020.
In an update on Thursday, Mr Nazir said about 200,000ha were restored last year. This year, the aim is to restore another 400,000ha, he said.
One way of restoring peatlands is to build dams in irrigation canals. These canals were built in the first place to drain peatlands so palm oil or pulpwood can be planted on it. But the drainage also causes the peat to become more flammable. Mr Nazir said about half of the 2 million ha Indonesia plans to restore fall in concessions managed by large companies. The Government is keeping close watch over them to ensure compliance, he said.
Companies like Asia Pulp and Paper, as well as April, two of Indonesia's largest paper companies, have announced plans to build canals that can re-wet plantations.
But Mr Nazir said consumers and suppliers in Singapore have a part to play to reduce haze too.
"You will be surprised to see how many Singapore investments are involved in driving the peat swamp conversion - money from Singapore. So, Singaporean investors should now look into how they could direct their investments to do work on the ground, on land use, more on restoration and not on converting more forests," he said.