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Mekong sub-region tackles haze pollution

Update: March, 01/2012 - 10:07

HA NOI — Mekong sub-region countries have agreed to remain vigilant to prevent and mitigate land and forest fires, even as wetter weather conditions approach.

The commitment was made at the second meeting of the sub-regional ministerial steering committee on transboundary haze pollution in the region held yesterday in Ha Noi, attracting environment ministers and representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.

Ha Cong Tuan, deputy director of the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry, said Viet Nam considered forest protection a critical task in dealing with the effects of climate change and drier weather conditions.

Viet Nam had made efforts to reduce the number of forest fires and managed to increase forest coverage of the country to 40 percent, Tuan said, thus contributing to a drop in haze pollution.

Chiang Keng Oon, acting senior meteorological officer from the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre, said wetter weather conditions were expected with the start of the rainy season in June 2012.

"While hotspot activities are mostly subdued due to the wet weather conditions, sporadic outbreaks of fire can be expected during short occasional dry spells," he said.

The committee noted the escalation of hotspot activities over most parts of the region had been more severe due to dry season which became more established toward the end of 2011 and early 2012. The region agreed to work towards reducing the cumulative hotspot count to less than 50,000 by 2015.

Countries have taken various initiatives to mitigate land and forest fires and to control smoke haze pollution this dry season, such as regulating agricultural residual burning, setting national hotspot reduction targets and strengthening law enforcement in protected forest areas.

Viet Nam had recently enacted new policies on forest protection and development that had been approved by the Government, according to director of the Forest Protection Department Nguyen Huu Dung.

Countries will also work towards setting targets based on criteria such as air quality data and the actual burned area.

An ASEAN-wide fire danger rating system is also being developed, which will help regional countries assess ignition potential, occurrence and spread of fires based on weather, fuel and soil conditions. — VNS

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