Asean Leaders Approve Joint Monitoring System to Stem Haze

Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations approved a joint haze monitoring system to identify fires such as those in Indonesia which led to hazardous pollution levels in Singapore and Malaysia this year.

The system will involve the sharing of digitized land-use maps and concession maps of fire-prone areas that cause haze, according to a Singapore government statement yesterday. The data will be shared among the governments of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Thailand.

Singapore and Malaysia have been plagued for decades by periodic smog caused by clouds of ash drifting from Sumatra, with regular spats over responsibility. Indonesia said in July it agreed to provide the governments of haze-hit neighbors with maps of plantation concessions in fire-prone areas, though only on condition that they’re not made public.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong suggested the city state along with Malaysia and Indonesia “explore new areas for trilateral cooperation which would help to address the root causes of the fires which cause the haze,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said in a statement yesterday.

Indonesia Ratification

Asean “welcomed Indonesia’s commitment to ratify a regional haze agreement” and looked forward to its ratification at the earliest time, according to a statement released at the summit in Brunei today.

Singapore’s Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan had said maps of plantation concessions should be made public so that companies owning land can be punished.

Concession data will only be made available to the public when there are court proceedings against companies charged with illegally burning and not before that, Agus Purnomo, a senior official at Indonesia’s presidential office, said on the telephone today.

“For the government, we will give the information when there’s a violation,” he said. “If there’s no violation, why should we hand over the information to be used for unclear purposes?”

There were 17 timber firms and 15 palm oil firms, including Singapore-listed Wilmar International Ltd., Kuala Lumpur-based Sime Darby Bhd. and Singapore-based Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd., with land in areas affected by fires, T. Nirarta Samadhi, an Indonesian government spokesman, said June 21, citing data from the non-government World Resources Institute.

Both firms have said they have zero-burning policies.

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