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Stronger measures needed to halt forest fires: Balakrishnan

There is an urgent need for governments, non-governmental organisations and local communities to collaborate, insist on transparency, expedite investigations and prosecute those responsible for forest fires, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

SINGAPORE: There is an urgent need for governments, non-governmental organisations and local communities to collaborate, insist on transparency, expedite investigations and prosecute those responsible for forest fires, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

He said this is why Singapore has drafted legislation that will impose criminal and civil liabilities on companies causing transboundary haze.

Dr Balakrishnan made that point in his speech at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta on Monday.

The root of the problem is misaligned commercial interests, he noted, with companies burning forests for short-term profits.

"The main victims are the locals living on adjacent lands," Dr Balakrishnan added.

"The same companies causing the problem are not being made to pay for the damage they cause to the people most affected."

He urged governments to take stronger measures against companies found responsible for destroying the environment, including those behind the illegal burning of agricultural land.

Dr Balakrishnan said that halting development is impossible, and that people have the right to jobs despite the threat of climate change.

But he said this means regional governments need to find solutions that allow for sustainable economic development.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "There is therefore an urgent need for governments, for NGOs and for local communities to insist on transparency, to collaborate more effectively, to pursue investigations and to prosecute those responsible."

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has also echoed these sentiments and warned Southeast Asia to stay clear of a self-destructing path of development.

President Yudhoyono encouraged Southeast Asian governments, organizations and civil society to continue developing a regional strategy to promote a low-carbon economy.

Dr Yudhoyono has acknowledged that the Riau forest fires were a "major disaster" and has committed to the development of a unified map of land use which will help mitigate deforestation, said Dr Balakrishnan.  

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