Member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed on Wednesday to share satellite data information that will monitor the haze development in each country in a bid to curb illegal fires and prevent its occurrence and spread in the region.
It is "definitely a step forward," Anthony Tan, executive director at the Center for Environment, Technology and Development in Kuala Lumpur, lauded the development of the information-sharing among the 10 member nations, which include, among others, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and the Philippines.
The Haze Monitoring System, approved by the 10-nation ASEAN at a summit in Brunei, will use land concession maps and high-resolution satellite images of ongoing blazes. The system was developed by Singapore.
"We hope the respective ministries will upload the digitized concession maps as soon as possible," Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's environment minister, said.
"It will send a strong signal to all companies that they will be held accountable," he wrote on his Facebook page.
In June, forest fires in Indonesia, which was actually a yearly occurrence to clear land in the country, gave off a massive thick haze that blanketed neighboring Singapore and Malaysia, catching the ire and disgust of the latter two nations. Not only did it raise the air pollution levels in all three countries, the haze likewise smeared international relations as the three pinpointed over the accountability for the fires.
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The fires were so thick and dense that it forced schools to close and overwhelmed hospitals in parts of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia with patients complaining of respiratory-related problems. Authorities said it was the worst forest fires in 16 years.
However, environmental analysts said having a haze monitoring system that ASEAN can share among themselves is not enough unless it is backed with concrete steps from enforcement to resolution on how to deal with errant companies.
"Responsibility for the fires can be assessed only with thorough, impartial investigations on the ground and more detailed concession maps," according to a recent report released by the World Resources Institute in Washington, DC.
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