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article imageWith worsening pollution, Indonesia ratifies ASEAN Agreement

By Karen Graham     Sep 16, 2014 in Environment
Jakarta - The burning of forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan to clear land for commercial operations, like palm and paper plantations, has elevated pollution readings to dangerous levels in Singapore and Malaysia.
It has taken 12 years, but today, all nine parties of the Indonesian Parliament finally ratified the 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967 and is a political and economic coalition that allows the member-countries to discuss common problems in a peaceful manner.
And if ever a common problem needed to be discussed in a peaceful manner, the human-set forest fires creating transboundary haze in parts of Southeast Asia certainly fits the bill. With Indonesia signing the ASEAN Agreement, they now will have a voice in dealing with cross-border pollution caused by the fires every year.
Singapore s Downtown Core on 7 October 2006  when it was affected by forest fires in Sumatra  Indone...
Singapore's Downtown Core on 7 October 2006, when it was affected by forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia.
Sengkang
"Indonesia has already carried out operations for the prevention, mitigation of forest fires and haze, and recovery activities, at the national level,” parliament said in a statement. "But, to handle cross-border pollution, Indonesia and other ASEAN nations recognise that prevention and mitigation need to be done together,” it said.
Professor Balthasar Kambuaya, Indonesia's Environmental Minister said: "This (ratification) is best for our people in Indonesia. So, we will continue, and we still make a lot of efforts, on how we handle forest burning and its impact - haze, especially."
Last year, in June 2013, pollution levels were so high in Singapore that people were advised to stay indoors. Singapore's pollution standards reached a high of 371 ppm, clearly above the "Hazardous" level, a classification that can aggravate respiratory ailments. The previous record high level was reached in 1997, when the reading was 226 ppm.
With Indonesia now actively participating with the ASEAN agreement, it is thought that a more concerted effort will be made to tackle this annual "slash and burn" problem. It is evident that no one country can make a dent in the problem without outside help. The agreement will see more resources being used to tackle the forest fires and a more coordinated effort by member countries, working together on the problem.
Air pollution over Southeast Asia in October 1997
Air pollution over Southeast Asia in October 1997
NASA Images
The 1997 Southeast Asia haze crisis
The 1997 Southeast Asian air pollution disaster occurred during the second half of the year, and at its worst, covered an area of more than 3.0 million square kilometers, blotting out large parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan. In human health costs and disruption of business and air travel, the figure came to over $9.0 billion.
Most of the fires were the result of "slash and burn" techniques used by large corporations and plantations to easily and cheaply clear land for planting. These fires are also used during the "off" season, the time when the rubber plantations are fallow. Then fires are used to clear the land for replanting. But through the years, due to greed or the need to make a living, the fires have gotten worse, and so too has the pollution caused by these fires as winds carry the smoke to large population centers.
Perhaps now, Southeast Asian countries, using the heft behind the ASEAN agreement, will be able to crack down on companies polluting the atmosphere and endangering the lives of millions. Fines are now being imposed on the guilty parties, as well as prison sentences. Indonesia will have to offer to be a lot more transparent in sharing satellite data that can pinpoint where fires are burning, and who they belong to so that prosecution can go forward.
More about ASEAN agreement, Forest fires, transboundry haze pollution, Malaysia, Sumatra
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