Singapore offers to help Indonesia fight forest fires

Singapore yesterday offered to help Indonesia fight its land and forest fires to prevent severe haze in the upcoming dry season.

It is willing to provide, among other things, high-resolution satellite images and hot spot co-ordinates, Singapore Civil Defence Force teams, and even an aircraft for cloud-seeding, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said in a statement.

Mr Willem Rampangilei, Indonesia's deputy for the environment at the coordinating ministry for people's welfare, said the country appreciated the offer, but would deploy its national capabilities first. "We do not reject the offer," he told The Straits Times.

Singapore has also offered Malaysia help to combat such fires, though no details were given.

The Republic has offered haze assistance to Indonesia before.

Since 1997, Jakarta has been using Singapore satellite pictures and hot spot co-ordinates and in 2005 it borrowed an aircraft and firefighters.

The annual regional haze is caused mainly by Indonesian farmers who take advantage of the dry season from June to October to burn land, clearing it illegally for agriculture.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index in Singapore hit a record, "very unhealthy" 246 last June 20, far above the previous record of 138 in 1997. The Environment Ministry has said this year's haze could be worse due to the possible El Nino, which is linked to drier-than-usual weather in the region.

In April, Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya reportedly said the country would never again borrow equipment from Singapore and Malaysia, but he did not preclude future environmental collaborations.

He also said the two countries had previously lent Indonesia substandard equipment, which they had passed off as "considerable assistance", thus making his country look bad.

Singapore's Environment Ministry said it was "puzzled" by the comments about the equipment quality. A spokesman said Singapore has consistently helped the Indonesian government to manage forest fires since 1997.

This included setting up the first air-quality monitoring stations in Jambi and Pontianak in 1997 and three air and weather monitoring stations in the Muaro Jambi regency in 2009. All the equipment met international standards, said the spokesman.

"We hope Minister Balthasar will clarify his comments," said the spokesman, who added that the ministry welcomed future environmental cooperation. "These efforts will benefit everyone in the region, including Indonesians and Singaporeans."

This article was published on June 11 in The Straits Times.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.