Since the severe land and forest fires and transboundary haze pollution incidents of 1997 – 1998, ASEAN has taken many initiatives and actions on-the-ground to address land and forest fires and the resulting transboundary haze pollution. Such initiatives include the implementation of the Regional Haze Action Plan (RHAP), the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, the ASEAN Peatland Management Initiative (APMI), the zero-burning and controlled-burning guidelines, and more recently the activation of the Panel of ASEAN Experts on Fire and Haze Assessment and Coordination. However, considering the intractable nature and complexity of the issues related to land and forest fires, ASEAN is continually challenged to respond effectively to the issue.

The ASEAN Secretariat, on behalf of the ASEAN Member Countries, would like to inform the public on the actions taken, in particular, during this current dry period.

REGIONAL WEATHER AND AIR QUALITY SITUATION

The ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) forecasts that below-average rainfall is expected to last until early October 2006 during the current dry season in the southern part of the region. Therefore there is a possibility for land and forest fires to escalate during this period. During this current dry season which started in July 2006, ASEAN Member Countries have reported significant increases of hotpots in the region, in particular Sumatra and Borneo. Several parts of the region reported sporadic periods of moderate to unhealthy air quality. However, the situation has been under control, mainly due to the actions taken by the ASEAN Member Countries.

ACTIONS TAKEN BY ASEAN MEMBER COUNTRIES

ASEAN Member Countries, guided by the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, activated bilateral and regional mechanisms to facilitate the timely exchange of information and offer assistance as necessary to deal with the situation expeditiously.

Indonesia has conducted various activities with regard to the current fire-and-haze situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan, such as ground-checking of hotspots in Riau, Jambi, West Kalimantan and South Sumatra to suppress immediately the fires, increased public awareness and campaigns by disseminating posters and leaflets, mobilised ten fire brigades in ten provinces comprising 1,560 fire-fighters, established 247 community fire brigades in Sumatra and Kalimantan comprising 3,610 personnel,  and developed demonstration sites for zero-burning in ten provinces. Water bombing and cloud seeding operations were also successfully conducted by Indonesia to suppress the fires in Riau, Jambi and West Kalimantan to complement the fire suppression efforts on the ground.

As part of its ongoing enforcement measures, Indonesia also implemented the ‘status quo land policy’, where activities on land affected by fires are suspended for further investigation. The ‘status quo land policy’ will be enforced on all areas, i.e. private sector as well as land occupied by communities. Legal enforcement will be applied equally to corporations and individuals. As many as 20 private companies suspected of involvement in clearing land using fires are now being investigated. The Indonesian authorities have also arrested several farmers/community groups for their involvement in slash-and-burn activities, which is outlawed.

Cloud seeding operations have been carried out by Malaysia in the state of Sarawak. Rain was observed in the areas where such operations were carried out.

ASEAN activated, for the first time, the Panel of ASEAN Experts on Fire and Haze Assessment and Coordination to Riau, Sumatra from 9-11 August, 2006 where significant number of hotspots was observed. The experts from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore were deployed to fire sites in Riau Province to assess the fire-and-haze situation. The Panel of ASEAN Experts on Fire and Haze Assessment and Coordination was established by the ASEAN Environment Ministers in October 2004 to undertake rapid assessment of the situation on the ground during potential or impending critical periods of fires and haze, and provide recommendations to facilitate immediate response and effective mobilization of resources within the region.  The Panel, based on their assessment, concluded that the land and forest fires have been brought under control by the Indonesian authorities and there is no requirement for outside assistance.

PREPARATIONS FOR THE REMAINING PERIOD OF THE CURRENT DRY SEASON

As informed by the ASMC the drier weather conditions are expected to continue until early October, 2006. Therefore there is a possibility for the fires and transboundary haze pollution to continue until that time.  ASEAN Member Countries shall continue to remain vigilant and intensify their efforts to suppress the land and forest fires to address transboundary haze pollution.

The Panel of ASEAN Experts on Fire and Haze Assessment has been put on standby for deployment to the affected areas should the situation warrants.

In addition to Indonesia’s efforts in cloud-seeding, Singapore is ready to provide a C-130 aircraft to help Indonesia carry out cloud-seeding operations in Sumatra. Malaysia is willing to consider providing necessary support for cloud-seeding operations. 

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Issued by:
The ASEAN Secretariat
11 September 2006

For media inquiries please contact:
Adelina Kamal, Environment and Disaster Management, Bureau for Resources Development, ASEAN Secretariat, Tel +(6221) 7262991
ext. 316, e-mail:lina@aseansec.org