S.E. Asia closer to anti-haze agreement


BANGKOK, AFP

Southeast Asian nations are closer to reaching a cross-border agreement on preventing haze pollution after a three-day meeting in Malaysia, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said Thursday.

“The meeting made good progress in reviewing the draft agreement and identifying the key issues. The general contours of the agreement have become clearer,” the UNEP said in a statement after the talks wrapped up Wednesday.

The organization said it had prepared an outline for the agreement in collaboration with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretariat.

The final agreement is expected to deal with the complex policy and technical issues of monitoring, prevention and mitigation of cross-border pollution, it said.

“I am pleased to learn of the progress made in this first round of negotiations,” said UNEP executive director Klaus Toepfer.

“It is another important step in reducing the risk of repeated forest fire episodes in the region.”

Three more meetings of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for an ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution are scheduled this year.

The UNEP said total economic losses caused by the devastating forest fires of 1997-98, which started mainly on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, are estimated at 9.3 billion dollars.

More than 20 million people were exposed to extremely high levels of pollutants known to cause long-term health effects, it said.

The haze, mostly from fires started to clear land for farming in neighboring Indonesia, choked much of Southeast Asia for weeks in 1997.