Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Driven by forecasts that this year's dry season will be longer because of the El Ni¤o weather pattern, the central government has allocated some Rp 602 billion to prevent haze.
The huge amount will be spent on an education campaign to get people to abandon slash and burn cultivation, enhancing law enforcement and managing peatland areas.
State Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said the funds were raised from state budgets through several ministries and local governments, as well donor countries, including from within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"We have to launch a concerted effort to tackle the problem," he said Thursday to an international conference on the implementation of Indonesia's action plan to tackle haze.
The conference was aimed at attracting international donors to contribute to solving the country's haze problem and coming up with input for an ASEAN environment ministers' meeting next week in Brunei Darussalam. The ASEAN meeting will be attended by representatives from Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei as well as international agencies and other countries such as Australia.
ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong, who attended the conference, welcomed Indonesia's plan of action and supported cooperation between the local and central governments and ASEAN countries to tackle the problem.
"It's not a question of a lack of resources, it is a question of how you use the resources. People will put in more money if you have a good plan, leadership and commitment to solve the problem. ASEAN countries are prepared to commit resources, they just want to know how it is used," he said.
Besides the Indonesian government, several regional governments also experiencing haze problems presented their plans of action.
"We have to change the way people at the local level open up the land. They have to stop the slash and burn method. We will give (people) equipment to be able to cut down trees and bushes as well as chemicals to create natural fertilizer out of it," Rachmat said.
The Deputy Minister for Natural Resource Conservation and Environmental Control Masnellyarti Hilman said that anti-haze activities had already begun.
"We have conducted campaign programs and distributed equipment directly to farmers while the Agriculture Ministry is giving incentives in the form of free fertilizer to farmers who do not adopt slash and burn," she said.
The Forestry Ministry, Masnellyarty added, had formed groups of farmers and given them equipment to prevent and extinguish fires.
At the industrial level, Rachmat said that the government would not hesitate to punish plantation companies that use slash and burn methods.
"I warn the companies not to burn forest because this time we will be much tougher. We will arrest them and bring them to trial," he said.
Masnellyarti added that her office and local governments would conduct checks on companies to see if they have the required equipment and facilities to prevent and put down fires.
Last year, she said, there were 28 companies being investigated and prosecuted over forest burning.
"It is not easy to determine whether a particular company committed a crime. That's why we will train people at the local universities to be able to identify violations," Masnellyarti said.
Local governments and several ministries were expected to monitor remote areas, she added.
On peatland management, Rachmat said the government was preparing special regulations to deal with 1.3 million hectares of peatland in Kalimantan.
"Peatland is very easy to burn, contributing to forest fires and haze, if it is dried. So we must re-water it and keep the water level high. We will build dams to control the watering process. Also, only 93,000 hectares of the 1.3 million hectares can be cultivated, the rest will be turned into conservation areas," he said.