July 20 Haze: In a word, progress is 'incremental'

July 20 Haze: In a word, progress is 'incremental'
Singapore's Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan (L) and his Indonesian counterpart Balthasar Kambuaya attend the 15th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee

Kuala Lumpur - Asked about Asean's apparent inability to resolve the perennial issue of transboundary haze, the grouping's Secretary-General, Mr Le Luong Minh, told The Straits Times recently that the Asean process is "informal, consensus-driven, incremental".

"Incremental" is not a bad word to describe the progress at Wednesday's regional haze meeting in Kuala Lumpur, where the outcome seems as much about saving face as buying more time to fix a contentious issue.

Key decisions, such as whether to adopt a joint monitoring system that involves sharing digitised land-use maps and concession maps of fire-prone areas, have been pushed down the line for Asean leaders to decide at their Brunei summit in October.

It was not the breakthrough many had hoped for. But, hopefully, it is enough to keep prodding all the countries involved to see the need to move together to fix the root causes of the haze.

Chief among them is the practice of open burning to clear land in Sumatra, much of it on areas listed as belonging to companies but are not fully within their control.

Asean, after all, can only do what its member states give it the mandate to take on.

Noteworthy, however, is the apparent concession on sharing maps. Granted, there exist large discrepancies between concession maps provided by companies and those housed in official Indonesian government databases, a point groups like the World Resources Institute have noted.

And there is no guarantee that having the maps will result in precise identification of culprits.

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

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