This picture taken on September 24, 2019 shows villagers monitoring a forest fire near their village in Pekanbaru, Riau. - The United Nations on September 24 warned that air pollution from Indonesian forest fires is putting nearly 10 million children at risk, as scientists said the blazes were releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases. - (Photo by Wahyudi / AFP)

SINGAPORE: Singapore has sent a diplomatic note to Indonesia, expressing concerns over the escalation of hot spots, while the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) chief executive has written to his Indonesian counterpart to seek more information on reports that Singapore-based companies are being investigated.

The two developments were revealed by the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli in a Facebook post on Sept 26. He added that he was “glad” that recent rain in Singapore had brought some relief from the haze.

“Last week, Singapore had conveyed our concerns over the escalation of hot spots to the Indonesian government via diplomatic note, sought their assistance to enhance measures on the ground and also offered our assistance,” he said in the post.

Masagos cited media reports that the Indonesian government was investigating several companies including Singapore-based ones.

He said that the request for information from the Indonesian authorities from the NEA’s CEO Tan Meng Dui will allow for investigations to happen “on our end”.

Singapore will not hesitate to enforce the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) if Indonesia is able to provide its neighbour with evidence of wrongdoing by any company that has contributed to the haze in Singapore, he added.

“Singapore will not tolerate the actions of errant companies that jeopardise the health and lives of people here and in other countries, and which set back our efforts to fight climate change,” said Masagos.

The THPA – which was passed in 2014 to go after companies that start fires or let their concessions burn – “is not meant to undermine the sovereignty of any country and is in line with international law”, said Masagos.

This overview shows the Marina Bay Sands hotel and resort blanketed by haze in Singapore on September 18, 2019. - Toxic haze from Indonesian forest fires closed thousands of schools across the country and in neighbouring Malaysia on September 18, while air quality worsened in Singapore just days before the city's Formula One motor race. - (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)

He added that the “THPA complements national efforts, such as those by Indonesia, to hold the responsible parties accountable”.

“The Act is needed because there has been inadequate enforcement to deter illegal land clearing,” said Masagos.

Noting that the transboundary haze pollution has been a perennial scourge for South-east Asia that has affected millions of people, Masagos stressed that there is a need for stronger action to prevent its recurrence.

He added, however, that Singapore is “supportive of the Indonesian government’s continuing efforts to suppress the forest and land fires”.

“I am also glad that the Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry is stepping up efforts to pursue action against companies that are culpable for the fires, and subjecting them to the full extent of the law, and pursuing the necessary evidence to do so,” said Masagos.

He noted, however, that the forest fires in Indonesia have had a major impact on the climate and that the “loss of carbon sinks in the burning of peat is irreversible”.

Noting that the NEA will continue to monitor the haze situation closely, Masagos said that he hopes the investigations by the Indonesian authorities will result in “strong and decisive action taken against the companies responsible for the forest fires”.

He added: “This would mark a significant step towards resolving the recurrent episodes of haze pollution.” – TODAY ONLINE

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