Environment ministers from Southeast Asia have agreed to a five-year plan to end Indonesian forest fire haze that has persisted every year and sickened hundreds of thousands this year.
Nguyen Ba Ngai, deputy head of the forestry department at Vietnam’s agriculture ministry, said at a press briefing Thursday that the recent ASEAN environment ministerial meeting spent a lot of time discussing the annual haze caused by Indonesian forest fires with a goal to end it in 2020.
Ministers at the meeting, which was held in Hanoi Wednesday, approved a plan to build a coordination center to control trans-border haze pollution, Ngai said.
Fires from illegal burning of forests and agricultural land in South Sumatra is an annual pollution that occurs every dry season, but it has been more severe this year, partly due to the El Nino phenomenon.
Parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore enjoyed the blue sky for the first time in two months on recent days as rains cleared haze that has shrouded the countries, as well as areas of Brunei, the Philippines and Thailand, since mid-August.
Experts in Vietnam have also blamed the forest fires for the smog hanging in Ho Chi Minh City and other southern provinces since the beginning of October.
“The forest fires this year are considered very serious and the biggest in history,” Ngai said.
Scientists say the problem disrupts lives and costs the governments of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia billions of dollars every year while leaving millions of people at risk of respiratory and other diseases.
They said the land burned by the fire is rich in carbon and will raise Indonesia’s contribution to climate change.
Forecasts from ASEAN’s weather center showed that El Nino will continue leaving serious impacts until the beginning of next year and fire and explosion risks will be high in the next two months.