Thursday, 8 October 2009

RI and RP urged to adopt ASEAN haze deal

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 10/08/2009

Southeast Asia civil groups, think tanks and scholars have urged Indonesia and the Philippines to ratify the ASEAN Haze Agreement in an effort to curb recurring haze pollution that has interrupted daily activities and caused health risks in neighboring countries.

Representatives from more than 44 different civil organizations met in Kuala Lumpur this week for the “Third Dialogue on Transboundary Haze Pollution”, jointly organized by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) and the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

“Wherever its primary source, forest fires and the resultant haze have become common problems for ASEAN neighbors, threatening human, economic and ecological well-being across borders,” ISIS chairman and CEO Mohamed Jawhar Hassan said in a press release.

“It’s a serious recurrent phenomenon that requires earnest collective consultation and effective coordinated response.”

Indonesia’s House of Representatives refused to ratify a haze bill in 2007 that would have seen Jakarta ratify the 2002 ASEAN agreements, saying it would only undermine Jakarta’s interest. If Indonesia ratified the agreement, the government would have to amend many of its regulations on pollution by adding a clause on zero burning and controlled burning practices.

“Controlling haze pollution is as hard as controlling illegal logging, given the size of our country and its forests, and in the face of a limited number of local monitoring officials,” said Alvin Lie, a legislator at that time.

“While ASEAN members have pushed us to ratify the agreement, they did not take into consideration our demand to include provisions about transboundary illegal logging and illegal fishing, which have also been seriously plaguing our country.”

The ASEAN Transboundary Haze Agreement was signed in 2002 and came into effect in 2003 without the participation of Indonesia or the Philippines. ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Haze has become a chronic problem between Indonesia and its neighbors Malaysia and Singapore. The two neighboring nations said the 1997 fires triggered respiratory problems for more than 20 million people in the Southeast Asian region and the closure of major regional airports because of thick haze.

“Forest fires are not only impacting the Southeast Asian countries’ economies and the health of the people in this region, but are also releasing a huge amount of greenhouse gases and contributing to the runaway climate change,” said Bustar Maitar, a Greenpeace Southeast Asia forest campaigner.