Commentary 2016/8, 25 April 2016.
The recent statement by Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar that Singapore should focus on its own role on the haze issue, and not concern itself with Indonesia, is out of sorts. Ms Siti was referring to comments made by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, at the 3rd Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources held on 15 April 2016.
When asked by news reporters a few days later about the comments by Ms Siti, Mr Masagos stated that Singapore has always been actively taking action against errant companies under its 2014 Transboundary Haze Pollution Act. Up to early April 2016, Singapore had served a written notice to six companies based in Indonesia.
Regional cooperation to prevent a recurrence of the forest fires is important as the haze is a multilateral and transboundary issue. The 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution requires nations to cooperate in developing and implementing measures to prevent and monitor forest fires.
Indonesia’s new peatland restoration chief, Mr Nazir Foead, has categorically stated that that there is a “zero chance” of a repeat of a haze episode of last year’s magnitude.
This year has however been forecast to be one of the hottest globally and in Southeast Asia. Hot weather conditions reported in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are a worry that the haze episode of 2015 may rear its ugly face again. Last year in 2015, the World Bank estimated that Indonesia had losses of around S$22.5 billion or 1.9 percent of its GDP. About 2.6 million hectares of forests were destroyed, 36.4 times the land size of Singapore. The haze cost Singapore S$700,000 of losses that year.
Indonesia has to continually inform and assure its neighbours of its progress to mitigate forest fires to assuage fears of a repeat of the 2015 haze incident.
Dr Lee Poh Onn is Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
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