THERE is no easy solution to the Indonesian haze which has blighted Southeast
Asia every year for the past decade, a United Nations-backed conference on
climate change was told yesterday.
Experts said the problem, largely caused by using fire to clear land for
agriculture, is not simply about preserving the environment but also involves
addressing poverty and changing traditional practices.
Smoggy haze from the fires on Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan regions sent
air pollution levels in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore to unhealthy levels
several times last year."It is not just an environment problem," said Loh Ah
Tuan, chief executive of Singapore's National Environment Agency.
"It is a social, political and economic problem. And if we try to force an
environment solution to a problem such as this, I don't think we can get an
answer," he told delegates on the final day of the Business Summit for the
More than 600 executives and environment experts attended the two-day gathering
which discussed how global business can help lessen the impact of climate
change. Loh said the Singapore government is formulating a master plan with
Indonesia's Jambi province on how to fight the recurring haze in part of Jambi,
on Sumatra island.
If successful, this model could be duplicated in other parts of Jambi, Loh said
results can only be achieved in a few years' time.
This "grassroots" approach aims to complement other measures taken by the
Indonesian government, he said.
Raman Letchumanan, head of the environment and disaster management unit at the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) secretariat, said "this is a
livelihood issue... it is a fight against tradition and poverty".
Budidaya, Jambi's forestry chief, outlined the enormity of the task, pointing
out that Jambi alone has a total land area of 5.1 million hectares, with 2.2
million hectares of forest.
Farmers clear the land the cheapest way they can because of poverty and
unemployment. High costs are also forcing many plantation firms to use fire to
clear vast tracts of land and dispose of wood residue, Budidaya added.
Brad Sanders, head of fire safety at Asia Pacific Resources International
Holdings Limited, a developer of fibre plantations, said companies should be
willing to spend money to clear the land instead of using a slash-and-burn
The key to preventing fires is not to use fire, he said.
But Sanders agreed poverty was among the root causes.
He identified small farmers, illegal plantation developers, and plantation
companies which cannot afford mechanical means of clearing the land as the main
sources of the burn-offs.
Indonesia's government has outlawed land-clearing by fire, but weak enforcement
means the ban is largely ignored.