July 18 Fighting haze: Don't let plans go up in smoke

July 18 Fighting haze: Don't let plans go up in smoke
Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar speaking at the 8th meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

This week's ASEAN meeting to tackle the haze problem has a huge responsibility.

The immediate challenge is to deal with the recent thick haze from fires in Indonesia's Riau province that has choked neighbouring countries. But the significance of the meeting is far larger than that.

Known officially as the 15th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on the Transboundary Haze Pollution, its role seems limited in scope.

But the ASEAN pact that gives the meeting purpose is not to be trifled with: Known as the 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, it has a global importance.

According to the ASEAN Secretariat, this is the first regional arrangement in the world that binds a group of contiguous states to tackle transboundary haze pollution arising from land and forest fires.

Indeed, it is a "global role model" for tackling transboundary issues.

ASEAN has a well-developed haze masterplan harking back to the 1980s.

Obviously, the problem is not a lack of ideas and plans. A historical analysis of the haze issue will show how competent ASEAN has been in identifying the problem and mapping out a strategy.

Forest fires have been a feature of South-east Asia's ecology since the Great Ice Age.

Haze in Singapore & Malaysia
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: ST, TNP, The Star, AFP, Reuters)

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