S-E Asia ‘likely to see more hotspots than last year’

S-E Asia ‘likely to see more hotspots than last year’
Reuters file photo

S-E Asia ‘likely to see more hotspots than last year’

But Indonesia assures there will be no recurrence of transboundary haze this year

KUALA LUMPUR — South-east Asia is likely to see a higher number of hotspots linked to forest fires and haze this year compared with last year, a regional meteorological body has warned.

The Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) added that with a chance of El Nino conditions emerging in the upcoming dry season from June to October, the region could also see less rainfall than normal.

The forecast by the ASMC — set up in 1993 as a regional collaboration programme among Asean member states’ national meteorological services — was cited in a statement released on Thursday (May 18) following a sub-regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) meeting on transboundary haze pollution.

The meeting in Kuala Lumpur was attended by Ministers and senior officials from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei.

“MSC countries pledged to remain vigilant and continuously monitor and step up their haze preventive efforts to minimise any possible occurrence of transboundary smoke haze from land and forest fires in anticipation of the drier weather in the coming months,” the statement said, adding that the five countries will strengthen cooperation “to ensure the timely and effective deployment of international resources for firefighting assistance, mitigate land and forest fires, and to control smoke haze pollution”.

Haze caused by Indonesian farmers who burn forests to clear their land for agriculture is a recurring problem in the South-east Asia region. 

In late 2015, Singapore, as well as Malaysia and parts of Thailand, suffered a severe haze that affected tens of millions of people, forcing schools to close and causing thousands across the region to fall sick.

Last year, however, the skies here were largely clear of the haze partly due to the wetter weather. There were just over a hundred hotspots in Indonesia, compared with thousands in 2015.

At Thurday's meeting, Indonesia gave the assurance that there will be no recurrence of transboundary haze this year. “Indonesia has assured us that this year will be like last year,” Malaysia’s Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told reporters. 

Mr Nazir Foead, the chief of Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency, gave a similar assurance on the sidelines of an international forum on peatlands in Jakarta on Thursday.

South Sumatra province governor Alex Noerdin had told a panel discussion in Singapore last month that there will be no haze coming from his province this year.

Asean secretary-general Le Luong Minh was more cautious, urging countries to remain vigilant. “There is no room for complacency,” he said. “If you look at weather patterns in the past two years, it’s been very abnormal — so we have to remain vigilant. We must continue with our efforts to implement haze control measures.” AGENCIES