Penang, Malaysia, 17 August 2005: The ASEAN Senior Officials on the Environment (ASOEN) met on 16 – 17 August 2005 and as a matter of priority addressed the current fires and haze situation in the region. The Senior Officials viewed with concern the fires in North Sumatra and Riau Provinces which caused serious smoke haze pollution in Sumatra, parts of Peninsular Malaysia and Southern Thailand. The air quality deteriorated to hazardous levels and haze emergency was declared in Port Klang and Kuala Selangor in Malaysia.

Indonesia reported that the smoke haze is mainly caused by land fires, particularly on peatland. The Senior Officials recognised the difficulty of mitigating such peatland fires, and fires which occur in remote locations.

Indonesia has mobilised 1,000 personnel comprising forest rangers, Manggala Agni fire-brigades, army, police, NGOs and forest concessionaires. Indonesia informed that the fires are now under control. Notwithstanding this, Indonesia remains vigilant for any future outbreak of fires and would welcome assistance to mitigate fires especially from ASEAN Member Countries.

ASEAN Member Countries, guided by the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, activated bilateral and regional mechanisms to exchange information and mobilise resources to deal with the situation.

Malaysia offered assistance to Indonesia and subsequently mobilised 100 fire-fighters and equipment, 25 SMART (Special Malaysian Assistance Rescue Team) personnel, and is currently making arrangements for cloud seeding in the affected areas. Besides sending coordinates of hotspots to Indonesia, Singapore has provided high resolution satellite pictures to facilitate the identification of fire sites. In addition, Singapore has offered an aircraft to Indonesia to assist in its cloud seeding operation. Thailand is ready to provide any assistance as may be requested. Viet Nam has offered to send 15 fire-fighters and equipment. The other ASEAN Member Countries are also considering providing assistance to mitigate the fires.

The ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) forecasts that drier weather conditions with below average rainfall can be expected in parts of Sumatra and Borneo from now to October 2005. The prevailing winds will continue to transport any smoke haze to the region should fires occur in the area.

In light of the drier conditions, the Senior Officials stressed the need to remain vigilant and undertake measures to mitigate the fires including mobilising more resources expeditiously.

The Senior Officials also recognised the importance of long-term preventive measures as provided in the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. In this respect they resolved to further disseminate and implement preventive measures such as monitoring, enforcement, zero burning and controlled burning practices.

To further enhance the existing regional mechanism, the ASEAN Environment Ministers agreed to establish a Panel of ASEAN Experts on Fire and Haze Assessment and Coordination. The Panel will undertake rapid assessment of the situation on the ground during critical periods of fires and haze, and provide recommendations to facilitate immediate response and effective mobilisation of resources in the region. Pursuant to the decision, the Senior Officials have at this Meeting set up the Panel.

The Senior Officials reiterated the need for stringent enforcement actions against errant parties who set fires indiscriminately.  In this respect, the Senior Officials noted the enforcement actions taken against errant parties by Indonesia. The Senior Officials also welcomed full disclosure and sharing of information on errant parties.

- End of Press Release -

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