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
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
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.