Come and see how we tackle problem, says Jakarta

Minister sends invitation to neighbours.


INDONESIA yesterday invited Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei to send representatives to its agency for land and forest fires in a move to step up joint efforts on forest fires and the worsening haze blanketing the region.

Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja said that the aim was to have “someone close to the ground” to understand the serious problems confronting Indonesia.

“We have a moral obligation to show to our neighbours that we are acting fast and effectively in tackling this matter,” he told The Straits Times in an interview.

He said that during talks with Environment Ministers from these countries he had proposed the idea to get them to nominate a representative to join the National Coordinating Agency for Controlling Land and Forest Fires on short-term attachments.

He said: “They will be able to work together with our staff to monitor the fires and take part in inspection tours to see what is happening on the ground and then relay it back to their respective governments.”

He said that the agency, which is on 24-hour alert, was set up in May this year as a result of the worsening forest and land fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

He added that it was akin to that of a “crisis management centre”.

The Indonesian government has ordered provincial governors in Sumatra and Kalimantan to establish similar command posts in all provinces on the two islands to monitor the situation and control the problem.

The government has declared that the haze stemming from the forest and land fires is a disaster requiring immediate action. So far, the fires have destroyed 300,000 ha of forest since July this year.

Mr Sarwono said that the command posts would feedback information to the government and allow them to act faster.

The minister said that bringing in neighbouring countries affected by the haze would benefit them as it gave them first hand exposure to handling a natural disaster.

Mr Sarwono said that the longer-term goal was for each country to have similar units and eventually merge into a regional coordinating body for tackling disasters with its headquarters at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta.

The Indonesian government has so far tried to tackle the haze problem by resorting to cloud seeding operations.

Singapore and Malaysia have been cooperating with Jakarta in various ways to fight the haze. Singapore has provided satellite information on the hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Malaysia, on its part, has provided pollution indexes on a regular basis.

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