The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today hailed a Southeast Asian agreement on fire haze pollution coming into force tomorrow as a potential global model for tackling transboundary issues worldwide.
The Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution adopted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) provides for heat-seeking satellites, better-trained fire fighters and a crack down on arsonists and irresponsible plantation owners. It is the first regional arrangement in the world binding a group of contiguous states to tackle haze pollution from land and forest fires.
"I congratulate ASEAN and the Governments of Southeast Asia for their foresight and commitment in combating the threats posed by uncontrolled land and forest fires," UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said in a statement. "Such fires spell a double disaster for the environment through their massive release of greenhouse gases and their destruction of biodiversity."
About 10 million hectares of Indonesia's forests, one of the world's centres of biodiversity, were destroyed in 1997-98 in fires started mainly on oil palm plantations and agricultural and forestry holdings on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. More than 20 million people were exposed to breathing extremely high levels of pollutants known to cause both acute and long-term health effects, airports in Singapore and neighbouring countries were closed by thick smog, and total economic losses across the region were estimated at around $9.3 billion.
Beginning in March 2001 UNEP, in collaboration with the ASEAN Secretariat, assisted government negotiators in developing the terms of the agreement, providing for monitoring, assessment and prevention; technical cooperation and scientific research; mechanisms for coordination, lines of communication, information exchange; simplified customs and immigration procedures for emergency response and disaster relief; and the establishment of an ASEAN Coordinating Centre for activities.