Haze News! S'pore & Indonesia sign initiative to tackle forest fires, 8 Nov 07

S'pore contributing S$1m to help tackle haze in Jambi, Indonesia

By Wong Mun Wai, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE : Singapore is providing S$1 million to an area in Indonesia's Jambi province to help tackle the haze. The money is earmarked for training officials and providing technical equipment. The assistance is part of a masterplan signed between Singapore and Indonesia focussing on fire prevention. The haze which hit Singapore last year was said to be the worst in decades, so a plan has been in the pipeline since March to root out the problem. To fight the haze, the first phase of the masterplan will see two stations set up in Jambi regency later in November. The stations, costing some S$500,000, will automatically monitor the weather and air quality as well as measure the temperature. The plan is to have the stations working by the next haze season from July. Two batches of Jambi officials will also be trained in Singapore in the first quarter of next year. They will be trained to read and interpret satellite pictures so as to locate possible fire hotspots. Driving the bilateral masterplan is the National Environment Agency (NEA). "The difference now is that we are working with a province - the local officials. We have gone down to the ground, talk to the farmers and plantation owners to understand where the gaps and weaknesses are, then we can work on specific action plans," said Lee Yuen Hee, CEO of NEA. At this stage, the NEA plans a total of six or seven programmes over the next one or two years. But the Jambi government recognises that local farmers need alternative livelihoods. It is drawing up programmes to develop higher income rubber and palm plantations as opposed to vegetable cultivation. It is also proposing fishing and tourism industries. Singapore Food Industries has expressed an interest to develop the local fishing industry. While all parties are happy with the plans to tackle the haze, changing mindsets remains a challenge. "If we can institute reform in our ways of land clearing in particular, we can make the local farmers more productive," said Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia's State Minister of Environment. Indonesia wants to use non-burning techniques to burn cleared vegetation. The country claims that it can turn the waste into fertiliser or compost. Under the masterplan, the Jambi model can also be used for other fire-prone districts in Indonesia.


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