Yesterday's Jakarta Post and Borneo Bulletin reported that President Abdurrahman Wahid had ordered the Ministry of Forestry and Estate Crops (MoFEC) to establish a task force to anticipate a recurrence of large-scale forest fires. The President's order was part of the official summary of a cabinet meeting that took place on Tuesday. The President ordered the concerned Minister to coordinate with local administrations and the Indonesian military to ensure effective implementation. On Tuesday, 11 July 2000, the Singapore's Ministry of the Environment issued a press release that satellite pictures have shown a significant increase in hotspots in central Sumatra. These hotspots are mainly caused by plantation fires. Singapore could be affected by smoke haze if the fires spread further and wind changes to a more westerly direction.
The ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre in Singapore (ASMC) has reported a significant increase in the number of hotspots, particularly in central Sumatra. ASMC's hotspot counts on 6 July 2000 indicate 57 hotspots detected in Riau and 23 in North Sumatra. On 9 July 2000, the numbers of hotspots in Riau and North Sumatra were recorded at 72 and 71 respectively. On the following day, the numbers of hotspots in those two provinces of Indonesia increased significantly to 291 and 150 respectively. On 9 July 2000, the ASMC observed light to moderate smoke haze over central Sumatra (Picture 1). On the following days, light to moderate smoke haze was also observed over central Sumatra, but the coverage areas are spreading towards some parts of Malaysia (Pictures 2 and 3). The coverage areas of smoke haze yesterday (as of 06:00 p.m. Singapore's time) were smaller than the previous days. However, a substantial number of hotspots and associated slight to moderate smoke haze were still observed in central Sumatra (Picture 4).
Singapore's Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) reading yesterday (4 p.m.) was recorded at 43, slightly higher than Tuesday's reading of 42 and Monday's reading of 38. Malaysian Meteorological Service (MSS) reported on 9 July, 11 a.m. that visibility at selected sites in Malaysia was mostly above 10 km, except in Penang, which was 8 km. On the following day, Klang Valley and Penang had visibility readings of 7 km and 8 km respectively, while visibility in the other states was higher than 10 km.
The current situation was due to short, hot and dry spell conditions, as already anticipated by the ASMC and other ASEAN's meteorological services during their periodic meetings. They have forecasted that 'weak La Niña conditions' may occur during the period of June to September 2000, but periodic dry episodes could be expected to set in towards the end of June. As the current La Niña continues to weaken for the rest of the year, weather conditions are expected to return to normal. The region needs to remain vigilant and take precautionary measures to prevent the recurrence of 1997 widespread and prolonged smoke haze episode in the region.
ACTIONS TAKEN BY ASEAN AND ITS MEMBER COUNTRIES
Recent actions taken by ASEAN and its member countries, among others, are as follows:
Monitoring of Fire and Haze Situation
Since April 2000, meteorological services from the four most affected countries in the region (Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore) have met periodically at the ASMC in Singapore to discuss regional climate forecasts as well as address meteorological issues related to fires and smoke haze. The idea to have these periodic meetings was initiated during the meetings of ASEAN's ministers and senior officials on environment, held on 2-4 April 2000 in Bandar Seri Begawan. The Sub-Regional Climate Review Meetings, the official title of these periodic meetings, have met three times. The first was on 28 April 2000, the second on 7 June 2000, and the third was recently held on 11 July 2000.
Singapore as the lead country for monitoring component under the ASEAN's Regional Haze Action Plan has been providing satellite pictures indicating hotspot locations to Indonesia. In addition, Singapore has provided higher-resolution pictures that could pinpoint hot spot sites within 20 m. Singapore's assistance is part of the region's effort to support Indonesia’s law enforcement process against illegal burning practices. Information received by the central government agencies is forwarded to the concerned agencies in the provinces for further appropriate actions in the field.
ASEAN’s Regional Haze Action Plan Co-ordination and Support Unit (RHAP-CSU) continuously monitors the haze situation on a day-to-day and region-wide basis and shares its findings through its website called the ASEAN Haze Action Online (www.haze-online.or.id). Its sources of information include relevant central and provincial government agencies, NGOs, relevant websites, and mass media.
The ASMC's satellite imageries on 9 to 11 July indicate that hotspots occurred mostly in central part of Sumatra. Based on informal communications from BAPEDAL's and MoFEC's offices in Jakarta as well as BAPEDAL's regional office in Riau Province, most of these fires were located in the border areas of Riau and North Sumatra Provinces. BAPEDAL's regional office in Riau Province is currently conducting air quality monitoring to check air quality condition in the fire locations as well as conducting field investigation to determine the party that set the fires. Some of these fires were located on plantation and forestry areas of four companies, which are being investigated for preparing land by burning. Some fires were also originated from an ex-plantation area, left behind by the owner some years ago. It is expected that results of the current investigation being carried out on the four companies could bring more evidence for trial purpose. It is also expected that the National Co-ordinating Team on Legal Affairs (Tim Yustisi), established on 23 March 2000 by Indonesia's Government, would intensify its investigation and law enforcement efforts to make sure that the fires are not spreading to a larger scale.
Necessary resources would be mobilised to the fire locations to intensify monitoring and investigation efforts and limit the spread of fires. During March episode, mobilisation of resources included immediate disbursement of Rp 100 million for field operations in Riau, full operation of the forestry command posts at central as well as local levels, mobilisation of Jagawana and approximately 150 local personnel to undertake fire suppression operations in West Sumatra, aerial surveillance patrols with helicopters in Sumatra and Kalimantan, mobilisation of firefighting resources (including approximately 300 state-firefighters) to undertake firefighting operations around Pekanbaru, etc.
ASEAN's Dialogue Session with Plantation Companies
ASEAN's second dialogue session with plantation companies will be held in Jakarta on 26 July 2000, organised by BAPEDAL and MoFEC in co-ordination with the ASEAN Secretariat. Plantation companies from fire-prone areas in Indonesia will come to discuss techniques in zero burning practices. Plantation companies from Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Singapore will also participate to share their experiences in implementing zero burning practices. It is expected that through this dialogue session, ASEAN would be able to secure their co-operation in controlling land and forest fires and haze. ASEAN held its first dialogue in January 2000 in Pekanbaru, Riau Province.
Meeting of ASEAN's Senior Officials on Environment (ASOEN)
ASEAN will be holding its 16th Meeting of the ASOEN Haze Technical Task Force on 1 August 2000 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Senior officials from ten ASEAN member countries will update each other on the fire-and-haze situation in the region, review ongoing regional activities, and discuss necessary actions to control land and forest fires and haze in the region. The complete schedule of other upcoming ASEAN's meetings on haze is provided in the ASEAN Haze Action Online (www.haze-online.or.id).
Fire Suppression Mobilisation Measures
ASEAN has put into operation its Fire Suppression Mobilisation measures in the priority districts of Riau, South Sumatra and West Kalimantan Provinces to contain the spread of land and forest fires and haze. These mobilisation measures are part of ASEAN’s efforts to develop a long-term capability to undertake fire suppression. Field-training exercises for the prevention and control of land and forest fires and haze are being implemented in West Kalimantan with funding from the Australian Government. Follow-up activities in Riau Province to further strengthen the local government's capacity in preventing and mitigating fires are being formulated.
ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution
ASEAN, with the assistance of UNEP, is now formulating its single agreement on transboundary haze pollution, which will help to prevent, control and mitigate transboundary haze pollution through concerted and co-operative national and regional action, while taking into account the relevant circumstances and socio-economic conditions of individual states.