Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. Photo: Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/Wikimedia Commons.
Asean environment ministers on Thursday expressed concern over the “unprecedented severity and geographical spread” of the smoke haze across the region while expressing sympathy for the millions whose lungs are ingesting the filthy air.
At a summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, they reaffirmed their commitment to the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, and agreed cooperate to enforce the deal, with the aim of eliminating haze within five years.
“The ministers are committed to develop an Asean haze-free roadmap which is an action-oriented and time-bound framework … to achieve the vision of a haze-free Asean by 2020,” they announced.
At the 11th meeting on air pollution, the environment ministers reviewed cooperation on smog-related issues and discussed initiatives to tackle the growing crisis.
The ministers told the media that they appreciated the efforts taken by Indonesia to address the forest fires, many of which are raging in its province in Borneo, Kalimantan.
The member states also pledged to remain vigilant and implement haze preventive measures in anticipation of a strong El Nino.
Asean’s meteorological centre’s outlook is for strong El Nino conditions to prevail into early 2016 with “hotspots” likely to increase in the northern nations in the region during the traditional dry season in November and December.
However, the forecast was more optimistic for southern Asean, where the rainy season from late October to December was expected to subdue hotspots.
The Asean ministers’ announcement welcomed multilateral cooperation to fight fires and Indonesia’s plans to host the regional coordinating centre for air-pollution control.
They suggested Jakarta explored the use of the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance to ensure an efficient response to the outbreak of fires.
Meanwhile, persistent rain has cleared the air across vast stretches of Southeast Asia after weeks of choking from the Indonesian fires.
As the environment ministers met, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore enjoyed the cleanest air in two months, while affected areas of the Philippines and Thailand also gained a respite from pollution that has sickened hundreds of thousands, disrupted air travel and fuelled anger at Jakarta.
“We can see clouds again,” Singapore defence minister Ng Eng Hen said on Facebook.