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    Mar 05, 2015

    Indonesia hits back at haze complaints


    INDONESIAN Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has denounced neighbouring countries for complaining about the seasonal haze caused by Indonesia's forest fires, and asked them instead to be grateful for the clean air they enjoy for the rest of the year.

    "For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us," Mr Kalla said.

    "They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset," he was quoted by The Jakarta Globe as saying on Tuesday.

    Mr Kalla had sparked controversy for deflecting blame of the forest fires from Indonesia, saying that Indonesia has repeatedly apologised for the fires, but has claimed in the past that foreign technology and foreign demand were to blame for the fires.

    "Somebody once told me that Indonesia must restore its tropical forests, and I told him: 'Excuse me? What did you say? Do you know who damaged our forests?' " he said.

    Malaysia and Singapore frequently experience haze due to raging forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan. In recent years, there has been a 58 per cent increase in the number of "hot spots", from 18,129 in 2013 to 28,580 last year.

    Losses to Indonesia due to the fires are also substantial. Its National Disaster Mitigation Agency said economic losses from the fires and haze recorded during the emergency period from Feb 26 to April 4 last year were estimated at US$1.6 billion (S$2.18 billion), the Globe reported.

    This week, fires also caused haze in Indonesia's Riau province, which is closest to Singapore. Lack of rain is worsening the situation, the authorities said, as they try to control the hot spots. Regional wind patterns were keeping the haze away from Malaysia and Singapore.

    Last year, Indonesia ratified the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which says countries have to cooperate in taking measures to prevent, monitor and mitigate the haze by controlling the sources of fires, in exchanging information and technology, and in helping one another manage outbreaks.

    But weak law enforcement in the country means fires continue to burn and often spread uncontrollably during the dry season.

    Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources enacted the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act last year to give regulators the legal right to prosecute those companies responsible for causing severe air pollution.