Asean okays system to monitor haze

KUALA LUMPUR: ASEAN environment ministers have recommended the adoption of a joint haze-monitoring system (HMS) to  weed out those responsible for haze-causing forest fires.

The system, developed by Singapore, relies on satellite images of hot spots and may be used in tandem with official land-use and concession maps to pinpoint  owners of the land on which the fires occur.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said Indonesia and Malaysia had agreed to share the maps only on a government-to-government basis.

“We are prepared to share the maps on all fire-prone areas and peatlands but they cannot be disclosed to the public,” he said during a joint press conference after the 15th meeting of the Asean sub-regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution yesterday.

The meeting was held after two days of discussions between environment task force officials from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei and Indonesia on short- and long-term solutions against recurrent haze.

The talks, originally scheduled next month, had been brought forward after haze from forest fires in Sumatra and Riau engulfed parts of Malaysia and Singapore recently.

Singaporean Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said  HMS was expected to be formally launched at an Asean leaders’ summit in October. He voiced his disappointment that the concession map data could not be made publicly available but acknowledged that progress was being made towards bringing those responsible for forest fires to justice. 

  “The talks did not go as far as I’d like but they are still a step forward. The companies will know that the data is being shared and that action can be taken against them at the local level (if they cause fires),” Singapore's Balakishnan said.

Indonesian Environment Minister Professor Dr Balthasar Kambuaya said the country’s strict regulations about public information and transparency made it difficult for the concession maps to be made available to the  public.

  Instead, the maps will be made available on a case-to-case basis upon request.

On another matter, the ministers commended Indonesia’s commitment to speed up the ratification of the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, planned for early next year.

 In response, Balthasar said the documents for ratification were pending review at Parliament and were expected to be passed by the end of the year.

 He said the Indonesian government welcomed the offers for bilateral collaboration projects from Malaysia and Singapore and was identifying the areas of cooperation.

 The ministers noted efforts taken by Indonesia to mitigate the occurrence of fires in its peat lands and fire-prone areas, expressing their appreciation for the  implementation of Indonesia’s plan of action in dealing with trans-boundary haze pollution.