Winds caused haze problem, says Jusuf Kalla

Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla speaking at the APEC CEO Summit in Manila on Nov 18.
Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla speaking at the APEC CEO Summit in Manila on Nov 18. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla blamed winds for spreading the haze to neighbouring countries, saying yesterday it was something beyond Indonesia's control.

Speaking at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO summit, he said: "I'm so sorry to Malaysia and Singapore to say that we cannot control the wind. We don't want the haze to go everywhere. (It happened) not because we want it to (affect) our neighbours, but because of the wind."

He was asked during a question and answer session with regional and international chief executives about challenges Indonesia faces to stamp out the annual haze, caused in part by farmers' use of slash-and-burn methods to clear farm land in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

This year, the plumes of smoke and dust spread as far as the Philippines, and shrouded other parts of South-east Asia for several months, causing health problems, school closures and flight cancellations.

Mr Kalla acknowledged it was a "big problem" that affected the region. To tackle it, the government worked to restore forests that had disappeared rapidly due to logging.

Indonesia had about 150 million ha of forests in the 1950s. But one-third of it had been destroyed by the 1970s due to "many foreign companies teaching our people how to log for timber".

This caused land to become drier and helped fires to spread, he said. The unusually long dry spell caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon made things worse this year.

Mr Kalla thanked countries that sent planes to help put out fires, and called for more "international cooperation" to solve the problem, saying that Indonesia would not be able to do it alone.

Countries, including Singapore and Russia, sent aircraft to help douse the fires this year.

Mr Kalla said the problem would likely persist next year, but he was hopeful it would not be as serious.

He also reiterated his previous remarks about the "10 months" of good weather enjoyed by Indonesia's neighbours, saying: "Ten months every year, the good weather goes to our neighbours. You enjoyed it; we did not ask you to pay for it. But if there's some bad problem, it is our problem to the region too."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2015, with the headline 'Winds caused haze problem, says Jusuf Kalla'. Print Edition | Subscribe