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Zakir Hussain and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja
Saturday, Sep 20, 2014

Asia

Jakarta approval to ratify ASEAN haze pact shows 'commitment'

The Straits Times | Zakir Hussain and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja | Saturday, Sep 20, 2014

Thick haze blanketing a road in Pekanbaru in Riau yesterday. Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya told Parliament the move to ratify the pact would benefit Indonesia the most as it would better protect its citizens from the effects of forest fires and safeguard the country's natural resources.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Indonesia's ratification of the ASEAN haze agreement signals his country's commitment to tackling an annual problem together with its neighbours.

"This is a very important development - a reminder of the commonality of interests between Indonesia and the region at large in dealing with the issue of haze," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

"Indonesia will continue to enhance its efforts to deal with this challenge." Dr Marty's comments come a day after the House passed a Bill agreeing to ratify the ASEAN pact on transboundary haze pollution, 12 years after Indonesia signed it alongside other ASEAN members and as the current haze threatens to spread in coming weeks.

The pact calls on countries to cooperate in preventing, monitoring and managing the haze by controlling the sources of fires, and in sharing information and technology.

Indonesia's delay in ratifying the pact had called into question its commitment to tackle the problem, but officials yesterday said the nation had tried to comply with it before ratification. Dr Marty earlier told Parliament's defence and foreign affairs panel: "Each time incidents like this happen, we feel it the most, but our neighbours also get affected. Our approach is in the spirit of not blaming one another, but seeing how we can solve the problem together."

Mr Agus Purnomo, an adviser to the President on environmental affairs, told The Straits Times: "Indonesia will continue to do what it has been doing, including law enforcement. With the ratification, Indonesia can no longer be blamed as a party that blocks regional cooperation." He added that poverty was at the root of the problem in many fire-prone areas.

Environmental law professor Laode M. Syarif said Indonesia had fulfilled most of its responsibilities under the pact, enacting laws to prohibit open burning and putting in place early warning systems and emergency response measures.

"What we need is the full implementation of those laws and action plans," he said. "Now we are obliged to do it by international law and standards."

Mr Afdhal Mahyudin, a Pekanbaru-based officer with environmental group WWF, hoped the ratification will see better detection of errant plantation owners, saying this should strengthen the government's hand in bringing culprits to book.

Last week, a district court in Riau sentenced a manager of a Malaysian-owned plantation to one year in jail and fined him two billion rupiah (S$220,000) for neglecting to prevent forest fires on the estate in June last year. The firm was also fined and ordered to repair environmental damage.

National Disaster Management Agency and Forestry Ministry officials yesterday told a briefing on the current haze situation that 99 per cent of fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan in recent days were caused by deliberate burning.

Disaster officials said aircraft allocated to do cloud- seeding to induce rain were under maintenance, although they are in talks to rent planes to seed clouds. Meanwhile, helicopters carried out water-bombing to put out fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The PSI in Pekanbaru, Riau, hit the unhealthy range of 138 yesterday. Air quality in Singapore crossed into the unhealthy range with the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) registering 102 at 8pm.

zakirh@sph.com.sg

wahyudis@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on September 18, 2014.
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