INDONESIA told fellow Asean member states it will continue with its efforts from 2016 in minimising haze at a sub-regional steering committee on transboundary haze pollution in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Thursday.
The country’s environment minister Arief Yuwono told representatives from neighbouring Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand that it is pushing on with tough measures implemented in 2016 to reduce forest fires and resultant haze which choked the region two years ago.
“Forest fire is a national priority and it is supervised by [President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo]. In early 2017, the President already gave us the instructions related to forest fire from the policy maker to the ground level,” he said, as reported by Malaysian state media outlet Bernama.
Minister Arief said a number of oil palm companies were being investigated and that Indonesia has a “strong commitment to law enforcement.”
“I am very confident following assurances from our Indonesian counterparts on their tremendous efforts in 2016,” said Malaysia’s environment minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar after the meeting.
Slash-and-burn techniques, generally implemented as a cheap way to clear peatland by oil palm producers in the Indonesian regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan, were largely to blame for toxic haze that spread across Southeast Asia during 2015.
That year’s fires were deemed a ‘crime against humanity,’ burnt an area 30 times the size of Singapore and cost Indonesia an estimated US$16 billion in losses to agriculture, the environment, tourism and health.
A study from Harvard and Columbia universities also claimed that the 2015 pollution caused 100,000 premature deaths in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
It caused major diplomatic tension between Indonesia and its neighbours, who accused the republic of not doing enough to prevent and combat forest fires.
In 2016, Asean members ratified a roadmap towards Transboundary Haze Pollution Control with Means of Implementation.
— ASEAN (@ASEAN) March 2, 2017
“The roadmap seems to be working,” stated Wan Junaidi on Thursday, as quoted by Channel News Asia. “There wasn’t much haze in 2016; there were maybe two days of haze. Indonesia has assured us that this year will be like last year.”
“By 2020 hopefully we will be able to achieve zero-haze status,” he added.