Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed to adopt Indonesia's plan to fight haze during its environmental ministerial meeting in Brunei Darussalam last week, an Indonesian minister said.
State Minister for the Environment Rachmat Witoelar said that ASEAN had agreed that Indonesia's proposed action plan would be applied to the region's efforts to fight haze.
"ASEAN has accepted our plan of action, and each ASEAN country will assess what it can do to help us fight and prevent the haze," he told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
ASEAN environment ministers gathered in Brunei last Friday last week to formulate an action plan to combat the annual choking haze largely blamed on forest fires set in Indonesia to clear land for crops and palm oil plantations.
Deputy Minister for Natural Resource Conservation and Environmental Control Masnellyarti Hilman said that using Indonesia's action plan as an example, each ASEAN country would draft its own proposal that would be absorbed into a regional action plan.
"It is because most ASEAN countries have their own forest fires that contribute to the haze," she said.
Masnellyarti added that several ASEAN members had individually chosen a province in Indonesia to help directly, and what kind of assistance they would provide.
"For instance, Singapore has already committed itself to help fighting haze in Jambi. It could be in the form of financial aid, equipment or technical assistance. Malaysia has said that it would help after learning from Singapore's experience," she said.
Indonesia recently presented its detailed plan of action to fight haze to ASEAN. Driven by forecasts that this year's dry season will be longer because of the El Ni¤o weather pattern, the central government and local administration have come up with a massive program, and allocated some Rp 602 billion to prevent haze.
Rachmat said that the money will be spent on an education campaign to get people to abandon slash-and-burn cultivation, enhancing law enforcement and managing peatland areas.
"We have to change the way people at the local level open up land. They have to stop the slash-and-burn method. We will give (people) equipment to cut down trees and bushes as well as chemicals to create natural fertilizer out of the waste," Rachmat said.
He added that the funds were raised from state budgets through several ministries and local governments, as well donor countries, including from within the ASEAN.
As part of the effort, the Forestry Ministry has also organized groups of farmers into fire-fighting teams and provided them with equipment to prevent and extinguish fires.
At the industrial level, Rachmat said that the government would not hesitate to punish plantation companies that used slash-and-burn methods.
Central and local governments will conduct checks on companies to see if they have the required equipment and facilities to prevent and put out fires.
To help with enforcing the law, people from local universities will be trained to recognize when a company is violating the law.
Local governments and several ministries are expected to monitor remote areas.
On peatland management, Rachmat said the government was preparing special regulations to deal with 1.3 million hectares of peatland in Kalimantan.