SINGAPORE ~ Regional officials praised this week Indonesia’s efforts to reduce a haze caused by forest fires which regularly choke Southeast Asia.
The blazes, set by large plantations and farmers, send smoke into Indonesian skies and across boundaries into neighboring countries each year during the May to October dry season.
“I wouldn’t say that there will be no haze,” Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, told reporters after talks among regional officials on Monday on ways to tackle the haze.
“But having said that, we also noted the efforts of our Indonesian counterparts, where they have set a target and reaffirmed the target to reduce the hotspots by 50 percent — which we welcome.”
Yaacob said the target gave cause for optimism that “the situation will be slightly better” than in 2006, the last severe outbreak of the haze.
Singapore joined representatives from Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand for Monday’s talks.
“Over the next few months, increased hotspot activities may occur in the fire-prone areas of Sumatra, peninsula Malaysia and Borneo, particularly during extended periods of dry weather,” the committee said in a statement.
It said parts of Southeast Asia “can expect drier weather in the next three months as compared to the same period last year.”
Indonesia’s Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said in April that hotspots had been reduced by 51 percent last year in key provinces and that improvement should continue.
Firefighting helicopters will be put on standby in the most fire-prone provinces, said Masyud, director of the information centre at Indonesia’s ministry of forestry.
“Indonesia is highly concerned with land and forest fires and we are prepared to manage it if it happens this year,” Masyud said.
“So far the weather has been kind. There has been a lot of rain.”
The worst haze outbreak in 1997-98 cost the region an estimated US$9 billion by disrupting air travel, tourism and other business.
Officials will hold further talks in Thailand in October.