Malaysia yesterday stepped up pressure on Indonesia to do more to stop outbreaks of smog after fires on Sumatra Island sparked Southeast Asia’s worst air pollution crisis for years.
Palls of smoke from slash-and-burn agricultural fires pushed haze levels to record highs in Singapore last week, shrouding the city in smog, and badly affected parts of Malaysia.
While smog is an annual occurrence during the dry season, this year’s outbreak has been the worst for years, sparking tension between Indonesia and its neighbors.
After meeting his Indonesian counterpart in Jakarta, Malaysian Environment Minister G. Palanivel urged Indonesia to ratify a key Southeast Asian treaty aimed at tackling smog.
“The environment minister has to deal with this ratification,” Palanivel said. “If they can ratify the treaty then they can go forward.”
The ASEAN agreement is aimed at tackling annual outbreaks of smog by increasing regional cooperation. It was struck in 2002 following Southeast Asia’s worst haze crisis in 1997 and 1998, which was estimated to have cost the region US$9 billion.
However, while the ASEAN deal is principally aimed at stopping haze that comes from forest and slash-and-burn fires in Indonesia, Jakarta is the only member of the 10-country bloc yet to ratify it.
Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said on Thursday that Indonesia was “in the process” of ratifying the treaty.
Palanivel said that a meeting between five ASEAN members on haze scheduled for August would be brought forward to July 17 due to the current crisis.
Highlighting raised tensions between Singapore and Indonesia, unidentified hackers yesterday attacked the Web site of Singapore-based Eu Yan Sang, a leading retailer of traditional Chinese medicine.
“Do not blame Indonesia just because the air in your country is polluted,” a message posted by the hackers said.
Thousands are tackling the fires, which are centered in Riau Province on the island of Sumatra. The blazes eased on Wednesday after heavy rainfall.
The skies in Singapore are now clear thanks to rains and favorable winds, and in Malaysia the haze eased dramatically yesterday as rain fell in many places after hitting hazardous levels in recent days.