Ministers to propose haze monitoring and map sharing

Ministers to propose haze monitoring and map sharing
Singapore's Enviroment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (L) speaks to his Indonesian counterpart Balthasar Kambuaya (R) during the 15th sub-regional ministerial steering committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2013.

A CHANGE in wind direction may see haze from Sumatra return to Singapore overnight, Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said as he and his ASEAN counterparts wrapped up an informal meeting in Surabaya on Wednesday.

They agreed to recommend their leaders assent to adopting a joint haze monitoring system and sharing of concession maps when they meet at the ASEAN summit in Brunei next month.

These moves could lead to greater transparency and ability to pinpoint those responsible for fires in forests and plantations.

The Straits Times understands that the ministers have not agreed on a date for implementing these measures if they are accepted. But in a joint statement, they agreed to take "prompt action" based on what their leaders decide.

Separately, in a Facebook posting after the two-day meeting, Mr Balakrishnan said: "We have to put the culprits on notice that they will be identified and penalised. Otherwise this problem will recur year after year."

The ministers also agreed to set up a task force comprising experts on fire and haze assessment and coordination to review existing alert levels and formulate trigger points for action. This would help the authorities to act on the haze sooner than they do now.

Haze in Singapore and Malaysia from forest fires in Riau broke a 16-year record in June, prompting demands for action. Fixing the problem has long been hampered by weak enforcement of laws and coordination among agencies.

Singapore had earlier pressed for concession maps to be made public so they could be compared against satellite data on hot spots so it could identify and act against any Singapore-linked culprits.

But the proposals for limited sharing of maps among governments has been criticised by environmental groups that say continued secrecy will impede efforts to prevent illegal fires.

On Wednesday, satellite maps recorded 71 hot spots in Sumatra.

zubaidah@sph.com.sg


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