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Strong political will to fight haze pollution

  • Asean countries must work closely together to ensure that the annual haze event will become a thing of the past soon.

Sin Chew Daily

The haze situation in the country is worsening with many places choking at unhealthy API levels.

As forest fires remain out of control in neighboring Indonesia, with six provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan declaring a state of emergency last week, transboundary haze is expected to deteriorate over here in Malaysia.

The education ministry has already authorized state education departments to instruct the closure of schools if the haze situation worsens.

Meanwhile, the energy, science and environment ministry has sent a diplomatic note to Indonesia to urge the country to put out the fires as soon as possible.

Minister Yeo Bee Yin has also expressed Malaysia's willingness to help Indonesia extinguish the fires and carry out cloud seeding if the conditions are favorable.

Like in previous years, Indonesia and her neighbors have been handling the issue of transboundary haze in a passive manner.

Environment activists in Indonesia have warned that the most serious haze incident in 2015 could repeat itself this year, unless the authorities adopt drastic measures to control the forest fires.

In 2015, the newly elected president Joko Widodo had to face the severe challenge of uncontrolled forest fires soon after taking office. He personally inspected the sites of fire and announced a series of forest and peat-related policies, including merging the forestry and environment ministries and setting up a haze emergency task force while extending the moratorium on new planting activities in virgin forests and peatlands.

Such measures have effectively reduced the number of forest fires and haze over the following two years.

This year marks the beginning of Jokowi's second term, and he needs to step up effort to ensure that his task force and plans remain as effective as in 2016 and 2017, so that Indonesians and people living in other regional countries can be spared of the plight of choking smog.

Indonesian media and environment groups have proposed to Jokowi to permanently halt the issuance of logging and plantation permits in order to prevent indiscriminate land clearing.

In addition, the authorities must also enhance the transparency of land use data which is important to identify the culprits of starting the fires and for more effective enforcement.

Malaysia and Singapore, which suffer tremendously from the transboundary haze, should do their best to offer relevant assistance to Jakarta.

Asean member states signed the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) and established a coordination center in 2002 to address the issue of transboundary haze pollution.

Judging from the current situation, this regional mechanism has yet to be fully initiated. The longer the delay, the more serious will the negative impact of haze be, inducing environment destruction, economic losses and medical cost.

Asean countries must work closely together to ensure that the annual haze event will become a thing of the past soon.

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