Indonesia Defends Haze-Fighting Effort After Malaysia Urges Action

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JAKARTA: Indonesia is dousing forest fires with water sprayed from helicopters and inducing rain through cloudseeding, its environment minister said on Friday, but denied that hazardous haze was crossing borders, as neighbouring Malaysia has said.

Traditional slash-and-burn methods are used almost every year to clear land in Indonesia for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations that public records show are owned both by domestic and foreign or overseas-listed companies.

No haze has been detected heading for Malaysia, however, Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya said, a day after it urged Indonesia and fellow Southeast Asian nations to take action against worsening air quality.

Forest fires are on the decline on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, she added.

“We are already working to prevent and extinguish fires, but not based on Malaysia’s request,” the minister told Reuters. “I do not know what basis Malaysia used for those statements.”

Indonesia is using helicopters to quench the fires with water bombing while inducing rain with cloud seeding methods, Siti Nurbaya said.

The comments came after her Malaysian counterpart, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, said he had asked Indonesia in a letter to tackle the haze, saying it should not be the norm.

The neighbouring city state of Singapore has warned that the “risk of transboundary haze occurrences remains.”

Indonesia’s dry season this year is the most severe since 2019, because of the hot and dry El Niño weather pattern, making it harder to control the fires, authorities have said.

Forests sprawling over more than 267,900 hectares (662,000 acres) have burned this year, exceeding last year’s total of 204,894 hectares (506,000 acres), environment ministry data shows.

In 2015 and 2019, such fires burned millions of hectares of land in Indonesia and sent haze billowing across several Southeast Asian countries, generating record-breaking emissions, scientists have said.

Lax enforcement means the fires often spiral out of control to produce haze that poses public health risks and disrupts businesses.

Southeast Asian agriculture and forestry officials agreed on Friday to take action to minimise, and eventually stamp out, crop burning.

Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) recognised the “adverse environmental and health impacts” of the practice and vowed to collectively reduce and phase it out, they said in a statement after a meeting in the Malaysian capital.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry said it had received Malaysia’s letter offering co-operation in efforts to fight the fires. –REUTERS