Singapore

ASEAN Ministers Warn of Renewed Fires in Southeast Asia

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SINGAPORE (June 19) XINHUA - ASEAN environment ministers warned Friday against a renewed threat of fires in the months ahead as the region is entering into the dry season.

The warning was contained in a statement issued by Singapore Minister for the Environment and Health Yeo Cheow Tong at a press conference held at the end of the one-day 4th Ministerial Meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Haze.

The statement said though heavy rains had helped put out the fires in Kalimantan and the El Nino was at its final stages, new fires were already spotted in some parts of the region, particularly in Sumatra, Indonesia.

The ministers noted that firm measures should be taken immediately to put out these fires before they go out of control.

The ministers agreed to speed up the implementation of the Regional Haze Action Plan which was launched to beef up preventive measures, and to establish regional monitoring mechanisms to enhance fire-fighting capabilities.

The ministers said that the plans must be complemented by public education efforts and strict enforcement against open burning, and they particularly urged ASEAN countries to include in their national laws regulations to discourage open burning activities by land owners.

The ministers agreed to strengthen fire-fighting cooperative mechanisms for fire-fighting in Sumatra, which involve Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. They also set an objective to prevent fires and not to allow the scales of any fires to deteriorate into a disaster level.

On fire-fighting in Kalimantan, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia will join efforts to prevent and contain any fires there within the framework of a working group led by Brunei.

Malaysia and Singapore agreed to assist Indonesia in aerial surveillance by providing training and communication equipment respectively.

The ministers also called on the international community to provide the necessary assistance.

A representative of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said at the press conference that the Global Environment Facility has adopted a project of 750,000 U.S. dollars to support the efforts to deal with fires and haze, and the UNEP will actively follow up with potential donors on an ASEAN plan to establish a 10-million-U.S.-dollar fund for fire-fighting and other related measures.

He also said that the United States has promised to offer an aid of 4 million dollars to help ASEAN deal with the regional haze problem and an additional 2 million dollars to assist Indonesia in fire-fighting operations.

In his opening speech Friday morning, Yeo Cheow Tong said the 1997 fires and haze cost ASEAN 4.5 billion dollars and a repeat of this disaster will surely aggravate the already bad regional economic situation.