Indonesia has assured Vietnam and its other Southeast Asian neighbors that a haze that has engulfed the region every fall in recent years will be prevented this year.
Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry advisor Arief Yuwono said at a Thursday meeting in Kuala Lumpur that there will be no transboudary haze problem in Southeast Asia this year, Vietnam News Agency reported.
He said there had been practically no recurrence of the haze in 2016, with Singapore reporting only one day of haze and Malaysia three days.
The situation is forecast to improve this year with a weaker El Nino and successful measures to curb forest fires, he said.
Every year, Indonesia faces criticism from its neighbors over forest fire smog, known as “haze”. The fires occur when swampy peatland is drained for new crops and the flammable dried-out peat is illegally set on fire by companies trying to clear the vegetation.
The fires in 2015 were among the worst in the region’s history, with billions of dollars worth of environmental damage, weeks of flight and school disruptions and thousands suffering from respiratory illnesses. The haze shrouded Southeast Asia’s skyline for at least two months.
Ho Chi Minh City reported an acrid haze for several weeks in October that year. Officials in southern Vietnam initially described the problem as fog, before admitting it was likely caused by the fires. The city also reported several days of heavy smog last October but failed to conclude if it had come from the Indonesian fires.
A Harvard and Columbia university research paper showed that the haze led to more than 100,000 premature deaths in 2015, but Indonesia denied the findings, saying its records showed only 24 deaths related to the problem, Reuters reported.
Southeast Asian countries have made a commitment to working towards a haze-free ASEAN by 2020.