FEATURE-SE Asia seeks new strategy to fight "slash and burn" haze problem
By Astrid Zweynert
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As a blanket of haze, caused by thick smoke from forest fires in Indonesia, covers parts of Southeast Asia, the region is struggling to find an effective response to the problem, experts said.
The haze has caused health problems, flight delays and school closures across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in what has become an annual ordeal that has defied attempts by governments, businesses and green groups to tackle it.
At the heart of the problem are palm oil plantation owners, who use cheap and easy slash-and-burn techniques to clear forests and meet rising global demand for the oil used for cooking and in household products from shampoo to ice cream.
Experts stress that Indonesia, home to the world's third-largest tropical forest acreage, holds the key to the problem and needs to put into practice a long-term plan to enforce laws, tackle the fires and spend more on prevention.
Margareth Sembiring, senior analyst at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said the complexity of the issue means it is difficult to make the region haze-free.
"Strengthening law enforcement in Indonesia is undoubtedly key in solving the problem," she said.
Other experts say companies and consumers must also play a part by pushing for palm oil to be produced more sustainably.
Environmental groups like Greenpeace have targeted companies in high-profile campaigns, and some firms have made commitments to help stop deforestation by palm oil plantation owners. Continuación...