An Indonesian soldier checks on a peat land fire near Palangkaraya, central Kalimantan, Indonesia October 28, 2015. Indonesia's weather agency failed to predict that the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon this year would be worse than in 1997, a senior minister said on Wednesday, as the government considers declaring a national emergency due to forest fires. The fires raging across the archipelago have created a haze that has blanketed much of Southeast Asia in recent months and, according to authorities, have left more than half a million Indonesians suffering from respiratory ailments. Reuters Photo

KUCHING: Malaysia hopes ASEAN should aim to be a haze free region by 2018, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said here today.

He said he had attended the 11th Conference of Parties (COP) to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution held in Hanoi, Vietnam on Thursday and Friday where the haze problem was the main issue.

“Although this is not an official declaration yet Malaysia expresses the hope that the ASEAN region should aim to be haze free by then,” he told the media after launching the state annual Environmental Week celebration here today.

Wan Junaidi said ASEAN countries like Myanmar, Cambodia and Northern Thailand also suffered from the haze because of their forest fires.

“But the severity is less because they do not have huge areas of peat soil.

“Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are badly affected when most of the 1.7 million hectares under peat in Indonesia catches fires,” he said.

On Indonesia ‘s commitment to fight future forest fires, Wan Junaidi said he had met with his Indonesian counterpart, Siti Nurbaya Bakar recently.

“Indonesia will send a delegation to study our peat soil management system in which we have drains and dams to help moisturise such soil.

“They also want to learn about our tube well system while we have a very strong enforcement by the Department of Environment which they can learn from,” he added

On the haze, Wan Junaidi said heavy rains, which occurred on October 17, had helped to douse forest fires in Riau and Jampi and reduced the haze problem considerably. -- Bernama