Dreaded haze expected to linger until August

PETALING JAYA: Based on the pattern in previous years, the haze is expected to last until August, according to the assessment of Indonesia's largest environmental NGO.

Walhi or Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (Indonesian Forum for the Environment) noted that the root causes of the haze have remained the same, three decades after it became a trans-boundary problem.

Walhi's national forest and large-scale plantation campaigner Zenzi Suhadi said the annual occurrences showed that monitoring and prevention of open burning in the country was still "very weak".

He said the Indonesian Government seemed to only take notice of the situation after Singapore reacted strongly to the haze shrouding the island.

"It is clear that the problems are still the same. It is important for the Indonesian Government to take decisive and quick measures to address the crisis," he said, adding that the haze could affect multilateral relations.

The smog, which first appeared over Malaysian skies in 1982, was worst in 1997 when the Air Pollutant Index reading in Sarawak soared to 839 539 higher that the "Hazardous" level of 300 prompting the Government to issue a 10-day Haze Emergency.

It has been an annual problem ever since, with Port Klang and Kuala Selangor in the peninsula recording the highest readings of over 500 in 2005.

The haze, which is now an acute problem in South-East Asia, is mainly caused by open burning in Indonesia for land clearing, in addition to other factors like hot and dry weather.

Zenzi said forest fires that had occurred in the last decade were not just due to ecological changes but also intentional land clearing by large-scale plantations and the lack of environmental governance by the pulp and paper industry.

Walhi's southern Sumatra acting executive director Hadi Jadmiko said efforts to stop open burning should begin from the Indonesian Government.

He said the haze could have been prevented if the Government had been serious in tackling the issue by coming down hard on open burning over the years.

"We have found that no action has been taken against two companies here which continue to practise open burning," he said in a press statement.

He said drainage canals in peat soil areas also led to these places being dried out, causing fires to spread more easily.

Rico Kurniawan, Walhi's executive director for Riau, said the number of hotspots showed that the issuance of permits for plantations was not done with proper assessment.

He said the application of environmental rules in the timber and plantation industries was still far from being responsible.

Walhi is the umbrella body uniting more than 450 NGOs throughout Indonesia's vast archipelago.

It has independent offices and grassroots constituencies located in 24 of the country's 31 provinces.

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