Haze-hit nations say ASEAN meet unlikely to clear the air

Haze-hit nations say ASEAN meet unlikely to clear the air

KUALA LUMPUR - Five Southeast Asian nations meet later Monday to discuss the hazardous smog that blights the region every year but the affected countries hold little hope of a permanent solution.

 

The officials from five ASEAN countries that form the bloc's "haze committee" will hold two-day talks on Indonesian forest fires before environment ministers head into a showdown Wednesday.

Forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in June left neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia choking on hazardous levels of smog from the worst haze in more than a decade.

The air pollution put off tourists, forced schools to close and caused a spike in respiratory illness.

But the two most affected nations and green activists hold little hope of a significant outcome.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong admitted in early July the forest fires in Indonesia would take "a very long time" to eradicate because of sheer size of the country.

"I know that there will be a spirit of cooperation but I think solving the haze issue will take a very long time, with the best will in the world," he said.

Malaysia's environment minister Palanivel Govindasamy refused to be drawn on immediate solutions to the haze which sent pollution levels to a 16-year high, forcing a state of emergency in two southern districts.

"Our job is to work closely with Indonesia and our ASEAN partners on the haze meeting. Once an agreement is reached we can go forward," he told AFP after stressing "long-term solutions" would be the focus of the meeting.

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