(eTN) – Indonesia is set to reject the “haze pack” proposed by Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries after almost eight years of deliberations which has cost the region’s economy, especially tourism and airline sectors, billions of dollars.
Forest fires from peatlands in Indonesia’s Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo have sent choking haze across the region, enveloping the skies across Singapore, Malaysia and as far as Thailand.
To help fight the fires, triggered by random slash-and-burn open burning practiced by farmers, timber and plantation owners, the 10-member ASEAN countries has proposed an agreement for the setting up of a regional coordinating center to help mobilize resources.
Following a hearing by its environmental commission with Malam Kaban, Indonesian Forest Minister Alvin Lie commented: “Ratifying the haze pack will subject Indonesia to binding obligations, including introducing legislation and measures to promote zero-burning. The agreement is not subject to amendment. Once we ratify it, we’re stuck.”
Indonesia now remains the only country yet to ratify the proposed “Agreement On Transboundry Haze Pollution,” drawing criticisms from its ASEAN neighbors affected by its “annual” exports.
“The benefits of ratifying the pact are smaller compared to the obligations,” added Lie. “Indonesia has made great progress to curb forest fires, and does not need the regional haze pact.”
The Indonesian House of Representatives is expected to formally reject the proposal this week.
Meanwhile, in a report issued by environmental group the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the forest fires in Indonesia have led to climate change and the loss of endangered animals, severely affecting efforts to promote ecotourism.
WWF estimates that Indonesia has lost 4.2 million hectares (10.4 million acres) or 65 percent of its forests since then as result of clearing of forests for the pulp, paper and palm oil industries. “The degradation of carbon-rich peatlands in Riau means the province now emits more carbon than the Netherlands.”
Adds WWF, it is also equivalent to 58 percent of annual Australian emissions, 39 percent of annual UK emissions and 26 percent of annual German emissions.
“The destruction of Riau’s forests is killing Riau’s endangered tigers and elephants,” said Susan Lieberman, Species Program director of WWF. “Sumatra’s elephants and tigers are disappearing faster than forests in Riau. The number of Sumatra’s elephants has plummeted 84 percent to an estimated 210, while its tiger numbers has dropped 70 percent to around 192 in the last 25 years.”
According to Lieberman, “In their search for new habitat and food sources, the animals increasingly come into conflict with humans and end up being killed…Indonesia has become the world’s third-largest carbon emitter, behind the US and China.”
On the economic front, cloudy perspectives for Indonesia’s economy in 2008 due to the continuous rise in oil prices and recession threats around the world, is derailing the country’s budget. The Indonesian government is now looking to cut down on expenses as it expects less revenue from this year.
Ministers have been asked to look for a 15 percent cut in their budget for the coming financial year with the Ministry of Defense taking the largest cut. However, the cut will also affect the budget of Indonesia’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The US$12 to 14 million budget will be back to its usual levels of previous years despite the organization of the “Visit Year Indonesia 2008,” which would be the ideal event to expose Indonesia in a grand manner.
Looking at Indonesia’s neighbor Malaysia- which just organised in 2007 a “Visit Year Malaysia” succeeded to increase its total arrivals by 18 percent to over 21 million foreign arrivals. However, its promotion budget reached also over US$60 million to mark the event around the world.
The organization of the Visit Year Indonesia 2008 lacks so far wide exposure. To start with the arrival at Jakarta International airport, the country’s main international air gateway with Bali. Not a single banner to welcome visitors and make them aware of the ongoing event. In Indonesia’s capital, visitors will desperately look for anything reminding them about the special event. No shop offers a special discount for foreign visitors.
“We asked all our private partners to help by emphasizing our “Visit Year Indonesia” as we produces banners and posters. However, we do not always see a concrete support from some companies such as airports or shopping centres as they believe that they are not so closely involved in tourism development,” said Indonesian Tourism Minister Thamrin Bachri at this year’s ITB in Berlin.
So far, tour operators are still waiting for the approval of special packages. However, as January saw international arrivals growing “organically” by 27 percent in Bali, maybe the “Visit Year Indonesia 2008” does not need so much advertising.