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Experts from Indonesia call for early preparation against haze in future

SINGAPORE — The worst of the haze crisis may be over for now thanks to rain, but experts from Indonesia said pre-emptive measures must be taken to prevent such calamities from happening again, such as by declaring a state emergency for the whole of Indonesia, and preparing peat land so that they do not catch fire.

Haze in Singapore on Oct 6, 2015. TODAY file photo

Haze in Singapore on Oct 6, 2015. TODAY file photo

SINGAPORE — The worst of the haze crisis may be over for now thanks to rain, but experts from Indonesia said pre-emptive measures must be taken to prevent such calamities from happening again, such as by declaring a state emergency for the whole of Indonesia, and preparing peat land so that they do not catch fire.

Delegates from the worst-hit provinces in Indonesia shared their stories of how Indonesians suffered on the ground at a seminar organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) yesterday (Nov 23).

According to the SIIA, the amount of haze-related deaths in Indonesia reportedly stands at 19, and over half a million people have been treated for acute lung infections. Panellists agreed that the Indonesian government needed to step up their efforts against parties responsible for the forest fires.

Singapore suffered one of its most severe and prolonged periods of haze this year, stemming from forest fires in Indonesia which were made worse by an absence of rain from the El Nino effect.

Mr Feri Irawan, an activist from Sawit Watch Jambi, said that his group had been pressuring the local government to be stricter and to have more concrete plans to deal with the problem.

Country Director for World Resources Institution Indonesia Koni Samadhi said that the Indonesian government has a standard operating procedure in the case of forest fires, but a state of national emergency must to be declared, to allow the government to fully mobilise the resources needed to manage fires. This year, only selected provinces declared states of emergency.

Mr Koni also said the Indonesian government must to work more systematically to “improve land use governance”. “We do need to have a more coordinated action across the ministers to improve the governance,” he added.

The delegates also expressed concern for infants and pregnant women living in the affected areas. According to Mr Irawan, over 200 infants from the affected areas are still suffering from respiratory problems and many pregnant women have been hospitalised due to haze-related issues. His team is currently pushing for free healthcare for these two groups.

Peat fires were another matter of concern for the panellists as such fires are almost impossible to put out, and can burn for long periods of time. Furthermore, Indonesia currently lacks the technology to put out such fires.

Mr Maturidi, a journalist with Kalteng Pos, a local newspaper in Central Kalimantan, said that the fires this year were only put out by rain. It is common for farmers to use peat land for plantations due to its fertility. But dry peats are highly flammable and plantations are prone to catching fire if peats are not kept moist.

While there is still no solution to putting out peat fires in Indonesia, Mr Irawan said he was glad that the government had stopped giving out permits for plantations on peat land.

Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman of the SIIA, who moderated the discussion, said that canals or dams would be able to provide peats with a constant supply of water to keep the peats moist and prevent fires. He said: “Once the fire does start, then you’re talking about pouring an endless supply of water into the peat.”

He also said he found Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s efforts, including his three-year target to combat the haze problem, commendable. He said: “I think President Jokowi truly is of the attitude to deal with this problem. Everything I have seen of him, and his team around him, convinces me that he will really try.”

 

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