From: Yeoh En-Lai, Associated Press
Published October 15, 2004 12:00 AM

Southeast Asian Nations to Set Up Environment Fund; Indonesia Under Pressure to Ratify Antihaze Deal

SINGAPORE — Southeast Asian governments agreed Thursday to launch a fund to support environmental projects in the region, and Indonesia's neighbors called on it to ratify a deal to introduce antihaze pollution laws.


Environment ministers and other officials from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were also set to consider how to clean up their cities and educate the region's 500 million people on environmental protection during their two-day ASEAN environmental summit, which ends Friday.


ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong said member nations planned to establish the fund by the end of 2004, and that it could be worth up to US$10 million (euro 8.15 million). How much money each member will contribute has yet to be agreed, he said, adding that China, South Korea, and Japan were also considering collaborating on the Southeast Asian fund.


The ministers have not decided exactly how the fund will work, but it will support existing projects and be used to kick-start new ones, with a focus on education programs in poverty-stricken rural areas, Ong told reporters.


"We can say, 'Don't throw rubbish into the river.' But where else can you throw (it)?" he said, referring to the lack of proper disposal and sanitation facilities in many ASEAN nations.


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Ong said more education on protecting natural resources and sustainable development was needed across the region.


Ong and Singaporean Environment Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said ASEAN is committed to reducing the pollution and haze caused by open burning and forest clearing, particularly in Indonesia.


In 1997-98, blazes on oil palm plantations and farms in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan provinces burned out of control for weeks, destroying 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of land and blanketing Singapore and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia with thick smoke.


Economic losses from those fires topped $9.3 billion (euro 7.6 billion) and prompted a 2002 agreement among six of the 10 ASEAN members — but not Indonesia — to fight fire pollution. The agreement came into force late last year, but Indonesia has not ratified the deal.


"We are in a delicate diplomacy to get Indonesia to ratify the agreement," said Ong. "As for enforcement, we believe Indonesia has done all it can."


Last month, more than a thousand fires were reported in both Kalimantan and Sumatra, sending smoke again to Singapore and Malaysia.


ASEAN comprises Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Brunei, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.


Source: Associated Press


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