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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : June 2002 : SE Asian Haze Prevention Pact Signed

SE Asian Haze Prevention Pact Signed


June 10, 2002 (ENS)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Ten southeast Asian nations today signed an agreement affirming their commitments to jointly prevent forest fires and deal with trans-boundary haze pollution.

The agreement signed here by member nations of the Association of South East Asian Nations is designed to prevent a repeat of the suffocating smog caused by forest fires that plagued the region in 1997 and 1998.

The Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution was signed by Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. It formalizes the existing Regional Haze Action Plan makes it legally binding.

The agreement addresses policy and technical matters relating to monitoring, preventing and mitigating smoke from forest fires. It follows four rounds of negotiations arranged by the ASEAN Secretariat.

Opening the three day World Conference on Land and Haze Forest Fire Hazard 2002 at the Putra World Trade Centre today, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said, "From past experience, if early action can be taken at the national level in respect of surveillance, monitoring, enforcement, preventive and mitigating measures, the impact of trans-boundary haze pollution can be much reduced or even avoided."

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which helped draft the agreement, applauded the signing today.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer welcomed "the strong stand taken by governments to prosecute, or rescind the licenses of, logging and plantation companies on whose property illegal fires are detected."

The 1997-98 fires started mainly on oil palm plantations and agricultural and forestry holdings on the Indonesian islands of Sumarta and Kalimantan, and were fanned by hot, dry conditions caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

About 10 million hectares of Indonesia's national forests, one of the world's centers of biodiversity, were destroyed while more than 20 million people were exposed to extremely high levels of pollutants known to cause both acute and long-term health effects.

Airports in Singapore and neighboring countries were closed because of thick smog and marine accidents were blamed on the haze. UNEP said the total economic losses from the fires were estimated at around $9.3 billion.



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