How S'pore can help clear the air on the haze

How S'pore can help clear the air on the haze

SINGAPORE - As Malaysia declares emergency status for two Johor towns, with over 200 schools closing, and residents of Indonesia and Singapore continuing to suffer from the choking haze, it's time to move beyond the blame game of claims and counter claims.

Instead, we need to look at the facts, learn quickly from the data, and ensure political leaders, companies and communities take appropriate action to prevent this crisis from recurring.

Last Friday, the World Resources Institute published detailed data indicating the location of fires that have led to the widespread haze. Our aim was to provide objective information that would help shed light on where the fires are located and who is responsible.

Our analysis was simple.

Using the best information that is publically available, we took satellite data showing alerts where fires are occurring, on the website of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), and combined it with maps of palm oil, tree plantation, and logging licences.

We then tallied up the number of fire alerts in each concession, as well as on other land, and published the results, including an interactive map, on our website.

While this analysis is still preliminary, we highlighted three key points:

First, most of the fire alerts across Indonesia last week were in just one province, Riau.

Within Riau, 52 per cent of the fire alerts were seen within the boundaries of pulpwood and oil palm plantations.

Fewer alerts were found in officially protected forest areas, such as national parks, or in areas licensed for selective logging of natural forest. About 48 per cent of the fire alerts were outside of company concessions on land controlled and managed by others, including local communities.

Second, based on the official Indonesian concession maps published by the Ministry of Forestry from 2010, two groups of companies, Sinar Mas and Raja Garuda Mas, control or are closely affiliated with the concessions with the largest number of Nasa fire alerts.

We found a total of 32 company concessions where at least 10 fire alerts were observed during the period 12-20 June.

Third, and probably most important, more detailed analysis, with fully up-to-date company concession maps, is not possible because these maps are not publicly available.

We have heard from many sources that our information has helped provide insight into the location of the fires, but due to the lack of more transparent information, it is still incomplete.

Some concession boundaries may have shifted in recent years, some companies have changed hands, and updated information - which can quickly be converted into new maps - would enable officials and companies to better understand where and why the fires are burning, as well as being crucial for any efforts at prosecution.

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