Regional Community Haze Prevention Programme

In June 2013, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have been affected by extensive forest and peatland fires and associated transboundary haze. The Air Pollutant Index has exceeded 400 in Singapore for the first time in history. A high of 746 has been recorded in Malaysia.  The haze in Riau is worse. Schools and worksites are closed and the economic impact in all three countries is expected to be in hundreds of millions of dollars.  Rapid and coordinated work is needed in the three countries to suppress the current fires and to work on prevention of future fires.  The root cause of the fires in land clearing and peatland drainage during the current drought - primarily in Indonesia combined with the common practice of burning for land clearing operations.

For the past 20 years the countries in Se Asia have been impacted by increasingly regular forest and peatland fires and associated transboundary haze – which occur annually but more severely in times of drought..  This has affected millions of people and caused serious social and environmental impacts as well as economic losses, in five countries in the region: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.  Assessment of the root causes has clearly indicated that 80-90% of the transboundary smoke haze is coming from fires in peatlands which have been opened up or drained for agriculture and forestry activities. Such activities involve both the private sector as well as local communities.

Peatlands cover about 25 million ha in Se Asia and in fire prone provinces may cover 40% of the land area.  As soon as peatlands are opened up or drained – then they are susceptible to fires.  Once they start burning, the fires are almost impossible to put out.  Peat fires may generate more than 50x more smoke than other fires and may burn for months at a time.

Over the last few years the governments of the region have been regularly meeting to develop strategies to address the problem and in November 2006, the 10 ASEAN Ministers responsible for the environment formally endorsed an ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy (APMS) to guide peatland management and fire prevention to 2020. Subsequently,  National Action Plans have been adopted in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam to translate the regional plan into national measures. At the same time a number of NGOs have been working together with local communities to undertake pilot projects to prevent peatland fires and rehabilitate degraded peatlands.  These pilot activities at community level have shown significant progress and have been accepted by the governments of the region as an important contribution to addressing the haze problem.  However the scale of action is too limited to prevent the current haze.

Enhanced local action by communities and private sector to prevent fires especially in peatland areas are urgently needed.  Coordinated action by civil society organisations is needed to complement government action.

A regional Community Haze Prevention Programme is thus being established to provide a means for rapid community action to help prevent the haze through proactive measures. The Programme is being established by several non-profit environmental organisations based in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, with experience in peatland management, fire prevention, pollution control and community participation.  It is anticipated that the programme will also involve other civil society organizations and partners from the ASEAN region in the future.

Proposed Objectives

1.  Support community-based initiatives to manage and restore peatlands and prevent fires and haze.
2.   Generate resources from the community (individuals, companies, associations and other sources) to  
        prevent haze
3. Enhance awareness of the root causes of and potential solutions to the fires and haze and promote
        action by different stakeholders.
4. Promote protection and wise use of all remaining peatlands in the fire- prone regions of SE Asia

Proposed activities

Objective 1:  Support community-based initiatives to manage peatlands and prevent fires and haze
• Fire prevention through community awareness, education and provision of resources for alternate land
        management without use of fire.
• Improve management of peatlands including blocking of abandoned drainage channels and rehabilitation
        of degraded lands
• Promote best management practices for existing agriculture and plantations in peat
• Community protection and stewardship of peatland to prevent fires and degradation
• Monitoring of peatland fires in relation to land development by private companies and communities.

Objective 2:  Generate resources from the community (individuals, companies, associations  and other sources) to prevent  the haze.
• Establish a fund to support community action on fire and haze prevention
• Solicit contributions and organize fund-raising events in countries impacted by the haze to generate
        resources to support action.
• Develop and submit specific proposals to potential regional or international contributors to the

Objective 3: Enhance awareness of the root causes of and potential solutions to the fires and haze and promote action by different stakeholders.
• Awareness and education programmes targeted at communities and other stakeholders responsible for
        fires and haze
• Partnership with media in documenting and disseminating information on root causes of fires and haze to
        key stakeholders
• Promote action by government, private sector and community stakeholders to address root causes and
        prevent fires and haze
•   Providing accurate information to the public on the location and causes of the fires and impacts of haze
        and options to reduce health risks

Objective 4: Promote protection and rehabilitation of remaining peatland forests in the fire- prone regions of SE Asia
• Identify and promote protection of remaining relatively undisturbed peatland forests in fire prone regions
• Promote rehabilitation of peatlands which have been opened up for agriculture and forestry and
        subsequently abandoned.

Proposed focal Areas:

The community-based peatland management and fire prevention activities will take place in fire-prone peatland areas  especially in the following provinces of Indonesia and states in Malaysia (this list may be adjusted from time to time).
• Riau Province ( Sumatra)
• Jambi Province ( Sumatra)
• West Kalimantan Province (Borneo)
• Central Kalimantan (Borneo)
• Selangor ( Malaysia)

Some activities will also be undertaken in fire-prone peatlands in other parts of the region. Awareness activities will be supported in all haze-affected countries.

Founding Partners

The establishment of the programme has been led by various initial partners including the Global Environment Centre from Malaysia, Yayasan Mitra Insani (Indonesia) and a group of NGOs in Singapore.

The Global Environment Centre (GEC) is a Malaysian non-profit organization which has been working in all haze-affected ASEAN countries over the past 15 years to assess root causes of peatland fires and develop practical solutions to the regional haze crisis.  GEC is a founding partner of the ASEAN Peatland Management Initiative established by the 10 ASEAN member countries in 2003. It is currently the Regional Project Executing Agency of the ASEAN Peatland Forests Project and Associated SEApeat Project. It has a solid track record in managing and disbursing resources in the ASEAN region to government, NGO and community partners and has Tax Free Status in Malaysia.  Yayasan Mitra Insani is a leading NGO based in Riau Sumatra which has been working with GEC on peatland management and fire prevention in targeted communities in Indonesia since 2007.

As the programme develops, other key civil society organizations in the region are likely to be involved and partnerships with the media and other groups will be developed.

Proposed Management mechanism

The programme will be overseen by a steering group of partner organisations and progress will be assessed through regular monitoring and evaluation activities. The Global Environment Centre will act as the coordinator and secretariat for the programme.  Contributions will be collected in the separate countries and maintained in special bank accounts designated for the programme. Funds will be disbursed by through a range of well established partner non-profit organisations working in different fire prone and haze impacted parts of the region. Where appropriate, national or provincial networks will be established to coordinate between different participating groups. Depending on the scale of the initiative - an advisory group including representatives from governments may be established to give policy guidance and ensure effective linkage with government programmes.  Expenditure will be closely monitored and independently audited.

Linkage with ongoing programmes

The Programme will closely link with other ongoing programmes and activities under the ASEAN Framework – such as the ASEAN Peatland Management Initiative, the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy and the SE Asia Peat network.  It will also support those activities to be undertaken in the framework of the ASEAN Agreement of Transboundary Haze Pollution.

It will link with the ASEAN Peatland Forests Project on Rehabilitation and Sustainable Use of Peatlands in SE Asia supported by IFAD-GEF and the SEApeat project supported by the European Union.  Linkage with these projects will mean that the collective expertise can be mobilized and resources can be shared - ensuring a cost effective and efficient management and reducing the expenditure for technical guidance and administration.

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