JAKARTA: New aerial footage released showed smoke billowing from Indonesian forest fires as smog-choked Singapore’s biggest supermarket chain announced a ban on products from a paper company accused over the haze shrouding South-East Asia.
Fires illegally started to clear land for plantations on Indonesia’s Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo have for weeks been producing thick haze that has cloaked Singapore and Malaysia, prompting the cancellation of outdoor events and school closures.
The smog-belching blazes are an annual occurrence during the dry season, but scientists have warned this year’s could be the worst on record due to an El Nino weather system that has created tinder-dry conditions in Indonesia and increased the risk of fires.
The drone footage filmed by Greenpeace showed acrid haze rising from dense jungle, trees reduced to fire-blackened skeletons, vast swathes of burnt peatland, and a city shrouded in haze on the Indonesian part of Borneo.
“Companies destroying forests and draining peatland have made Indonesia’s landscape into a huge carbon bomb, and the drought has given it a thousand fuses,” said Bustar Maitar, Indonesian forest project leader for Greenpeace South-East Asia.
“The Indonesian government can no longer turn a blind eye to this destruction when half of Asia is living with the consequences.”
Pressure mounted in Singapore, where air quality has been unhealthy for weeks, with supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice, which belongs to a state-linked trades union, announcing the withdrawal from its shelves of all paper products sourced from Indonesian-owned Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), which has corporate offices in Singapore.
This comes after the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) temporarily suspended the firm’s exclusive distributor Universal Sovereign Trading’s use of their green label pending further investigations.
The move also comes shortly after FairPrice was asked by the SEC to sign a declaration form stating that it did not carry products from the five companies being investigated for their possible connection to the forest fires in Indonesia.
FairPrice carries 14 housebrand paper products. Of these, two are sourced from APP through Universal Sovereign.
The chain also carries 16 other APP related products from various brands – including Paseo, NICE and Jolly – which will be pulled off the shelves too.
NTUC FairPrice executive director Seah Kian Peng said they had been proactively monitoring the situation over the past week.
“As a fair business partner, we reserved taking action pending further information and investigation by the authorities,” he said. “Our decision to withdraw all APP products is a result of the temporary restriction of their Green Label certification.”
Aida Greenbury, APP’s Jakarta-based managing director for sustainability, told AFP that the company was working with the Indonesian military to fight forest fires in suppliers’ landholdings, where more than 10,000ha had been affected.
“Regardless of who started the fires, we are working around the clock and bringing in additional resources to manage forest fires in our suppliers’ land,” she said in a statement.
“If any suppliers are found to have intentionally burned land, we
will disengage with them. We are ready to step up and do more to address challenges in the landscape.”
Tensions have been rising between the governments of Singapore and Indonesia over the haze, and the city-state’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked Indonesia in a statement yesterday for an “early response” to its requests for information on “errant companies suspected of being involved in the haze”.
Late last month, the National Environment Agency (NEA) began legal action against Singapore-listed APP and four Indonesian firms that it believes to be behind the burning.
APP was asked to supply information on its subsidiaries operating in Singapore and Indonesia, as well as measures taken by its suppliers to put out fires in their concessions.
The company said yesterday it had provided information in response to the agency’s request.
Under a 2014 law, Singapore can impose a fine of S$100,000 (RM297,033) for each day that a local or foreign company contributes to unhealthy levels of haze pollution in Singapore, subject to a maximum total of S$2mil (RM5.9mil). — AFP/ The Straits Times / Asia News Network