Monday, October 25, 2010

Haze highlights weak ASEAN cooperation

Martin Abbugao in AFP: Just a week after Southeast Asia hailed "substantive progress" against cross-border air pollution, Singapore and parts of Malaysia are again being blanketed by smog from forest fires in Indonesia. The problem, known euphemistically as "the haze", raises fresh questions about the effectiveness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose leaders will hold a summit in Hanoi from October 28-29.

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo phoned his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa on Friday to press for action and offer help in extinguishing forest fires largely set by farmers in the vast island of Sumatra to clear land for cultivation. Malaysian officials also vented their frustration at the persistent problem, which analysts said highlights weakness both within individual ASEAN countries and the bloc itself in enforcing domestic laws and regional pacts.

"This just shows that ASEAN must move from talk to action," said Joko Arif, Southeast Asia forest team leader at environmental group Greenpeace. "ASEAN has been talking for more than 10 years on how to combat forest fires and haze, but I think more concrete action needs to be done," he told AFP. For its part, Indonesia should effectively implement laws that ban the use of fire to clear land and be more transparent in giving out information on the location and size of the burning activities, Arif said….

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