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S’pore renews haze assistance offer to Indonesia

SINGAPORE — Ahead of the annual dry season in Indonesia, Singapore is renewing its offer to help combat forest fires with an assistance package that includes C-130 planes, firefighters and high-resolution satellite imagery.

An Indonesian soldier checks on a peat land fire near Palangkaraya, central Kalimantan, Indonesia October 28, 2015. Photo: Reuters

An Indonesian soldier checks on a peat land fire near Palangkaraya, central Kalimantan, Indonesia October 28, 2015. Photo: Reuters

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SINGAPORE — Ahead of the annual dry season in Indonesia, Singapore is renewing its offer to help combat forest fires with an assistance package that includes C-130 planes, firefighters and high-resolution satellite imagery.

“Every year since 2005, Singapore has offered assistance packages to support Indonesia in its fire mitigation efforts,” the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said in a statement on Tuesday. “This is part of the Singapore Government’s broader commitment to assist the Indonesian Government in its efforts to deal with the land and forest fires in the run-up to the traditional dry season from June to October.”

The assistance package offered by Singapore this year include:

* Up to two C-130 aircraft to ferry a fire-fighting assistance team from Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF);

* A team from SCDF to provide fire-fighting assessment and planning assistance;

* One C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding operations; and

* High-resolution satellite pictures of fires and the coordinates of the fire sites.

“Illegal and unsustainable land clearing methods, in particular ‘slash and burn’ agricultural practices by irresponsible companies, have been identified as the root cause of fires that result in transboundary haze pollution,” noted the statement. “The Singapore Government remains committed to working with the Indonesian Government and other like-minded partners to find more permanent solutions to this regional problem."

Last month however, media reports said Indonesia would scrap some ongoing and upcoming collaboration projects with Singapore on environment, forestry and haze-related issues as part of a unilateral review on bilateral cooperation that Jakarta was conducting. 

Indonesia’s Minister of the Environment and Forestry, Ms Siti Nurbaya, revealed this in an interview with a Jakarta-based environment news portal in mid-May.

She said she would be leading the review herself and existing bilateral collaborations could be broken off following the “substance-based review process.” “Planned bilateral collaborations between Singapore and my ministry, such as those involving haze and forest fire-related issues, are no exception,” she was quoted as saying by the portal foresthints.news.

In an April interview, also with foresthints.news, Ms Siti Nurbaya told Singapore to focus on its own role in addressing the issue instead of “making so many comments”. She said then that the Indonesian government has taken “substantial steps” to prevent land and forest fires, and the ensuing haze that envelopes the region every year, based on decisions made by the Indonesian government, and not because of pressure from other countries, including Singapore.

Then, she was responding to Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli’s statement at a sustainability forum that agro-forestry companies should take full responsibility for fire prevention and mitigation in their concessions, and that there must not be a repeat of last year’s forest fires which caused the haze.

Singapore has issued notices to six Indonesia-based companies that started fires or let their concessions burn, and contributed to last year’s haze that blanketed Singapore and parts of the region. Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) has also obtained a court warrant against the director of one of the Indonesian firms linked to illegal forest fires that caused a region-wide haze for several months last year.

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