Fight haze at regional, bilateral and national levels: Masagos

Asean countries need to implement actions at three levels to make cooperation work, says minister

 Firefighters and volunteers extinguishing a fire on peat land in Kuala Kapuas, Kalimantan, on Oct 25, 2015.
Firefighters and volunteers extinguishing a fire on peat land in Kuala Kapuas, Kalimantan, on Oct 25, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

For South-east Asia to be haze-free by 2020, countries in the region need to combat the haze at regional, bilateral and national levels, Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said yesterday.

Giving the Singapore media an update on an Asean meeting on environmental issues in Hanoi over the past week, Mr Masagos noted that the current haze situation is the worst on record, surpassing similar crises in 1997 and 2013.

To tackle the issue, countries in the region must "operationalise the three levels at which we can make the cooperation work", he said.

At the Asean level, Mr Masagos called for quicker implementation of peatland management strategies, and welcomed Indonesian President Joko Widodo's commitment to roll out the One Map initiative within the next three years.

One Map aims to mark all forest boundaries and concessions clearly on one official map that can be referred to by all parties. This will improve transparency and accountability, and minimise land disputes.

Mr Masagos also said that Asean should work towards a haze management system, which could help put out fires faster.

This system, he said, will give all Asean meteorological stations satellite pictures and early warning on the ground.

He pointed out that when Indonesia finally accepted Singapore's help to fight forest fires, troops from the Republic extinguished some 50 hot spots over two weeks.

"Because they were called in late, and the peat fire spread out so much, this is minuscule," said Mr Masagos.

"Therefore, one thing we have to solve is that there should be an appropriate alert level, (so) that any party affected by forest fires can get help and that, together, the region can gather assets and put out the fire early, so it becomes an effective way of working together."

On the bilateral level, Mr Masagos hoped that neighbouring countries could cooperate better to tackle the crisis. He said he hoped to meet his Indonesian counterpart to discuss how both sides could work together.

Mr Masagos also stressed that every country should have a national action plan in place.

Singapore, for instance, has implemented the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to take rogue companies to task and has served notice on seven such companies so far.

He again urged the Indonesian authorities to share the names of errant companies they are pursuing, as the pressure on these firms could be increased when "multiple countries pursue these companies".

Mr Masagos stressed that the Act did not target any country or any economic activity needed to support the livelihoods of people around the world.

However, like all countries which are environmentally responsible, Singapore wants these companies "to make sure that they take care of the environment, not just for ourselves but for our children too", he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'Fight haze at regional, bilateral and national levels: Masagos'. Print Edition | Subscribe