Asian Development Bank (ADB) Support to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) via a Regional Technical Assistance (RETA)

"Strengthening ASEANīs Capacity to Prevent and Mitigate Transboundary Atmospheric Pollution Resulting from Forest Fires (RETA 5778-REG)"

(IFFN No. 19 - September 1998,p. 13-15)

Project Backgroundri_16_1.gif (13242 Byte)

Land and forest fires have occurred in Southeast Asia since the Pleistocene Age. Long-term climate variability (glacial versus non-glacial climate) and short-term climate oscillations caused by the El Niņo-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event have regularly created conditions that make even rainforests vulnerable to wildfires. Fire is also linked to human interventions, which include: (i) temporary forest conversion by traditional slash-and-burn systems; (ii) permanent forest conversion for establishment of agriculture, including estate crops, food crops, horticulture, and livestock; (iii) conversion of natural forest (mainly exploited or otherwise degraded secondary forest) into industrial timber plantations; (iv) drainage of peat swamps; and (v) wildfires (i.e., land clearing or land preparation fires that escape into surrounding natural forest, peatlands, or plantations).

In response to the fire-and-smoke episodes in Southeast Asia during the periods of 1982-1983, 1987, 1991, 1994, and 1997-1998, several national and international initiatives, especially in Indonesia, were instituted. These included the Bandung Conference (Indonesia) in 1992, a number of regional workshops and meetings on transboundary haze pollution held in Indonesia and Malaysia between 1992 and 1995, and the establishment of the Haze Technical Task Force (HTTF) during the Sixth Meeting of the ASEAN Senior Officials on Environment (ASOEN) in September 1995.

While the objectives of the HTTF were to operationalize and implement the measures recommended in the 1995 ASEAN Cooperation Plan on Transboundary Pollution, which included measures for addressing the problem of fire and smoke, absence of specific operational plans rendered it ineffective. Consequently, the region faced another major episode of transboundary haze pollution in 1997. Because of this, affected ASEAN member countries decided to take more effective and concerted action to prevent and mitigate such disasters. On 11 December 1997, Malaysia and Indonesia signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding for collaboration in addressing the haze problem, and for undertaking a joint response to other disasters.

Given the significance of the social, economic and environmental impacts of transboundary atmospheric pollution in the region, especially following the 1997 regional haze episode, the HTTF undertook concerted efforts to finalize a response strategy in the form of a Regional Haze Action Plan (RHAP). The RHAP was completed in December 1997, and endorsed by the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Haze (AMMH) held in Singapore from 22 to 23 December 1997. The primary objectives of the RHAP are to: (i) prevent forest fires through better management policies and enforcement; (ii) establish operational mechanisms for monitoring land and forest fires; and (iii) strengthen regional land and forest firefighting capability, and other mitigation measures.

Following consultation with national, regional, and international agencies and bilateral donors, Asian Development Bank (ADB) formulated a program for addressing the causes of the economic and environmental damage from these fires, and for preventing their recurrence. This program consists of two separate, but inter-related technical assistance projects. The first of these is ADB support to a national initiative via an advisory technical assistance (ADTA) to Indonesia for addressing the problems resulting from forest fires. The second consists of support to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) via a regional technical assistance (RETA) for strengthening ASEANīs capacity in preventing and mitigating transboundary atmospheric pollution resulting from the forest fires.

On 24 February 1998, ADB approved the RETA to ASEAN in an amount of US$1.0 million. At the request of the Government of Indonesia, ADB also approved the complementary ADTA in an amount of US$1.0 million on 20 March 1998. Operations under the RETA began in mid-April of this year. Operations under the ADTA are scheduled to begin on or about 20 July 198. The remainder of this article discusses the RETAīs objectives, scope of work, its work plan, and the progress that it has made since it began operations.

RETA Objectives

The RETAīs main objective is to strengthen ASEANīs capacity in operationalizing and implementing the RHAP. It therefore leaves to other agencies the issue of suppression of fires that are already burning. Working in parallel with the national-level ADTA for Indonesia referred to above, the RETA will assist ASEAN in setting up a strong regional program for fire and haze prevention, monitoring and mitigation. It is also working to help develop inter-country cooperation arrangements for improving scientific understanding of the causes and consequences of transboundary atmospheric pollution as it affects ASEAN.

Since RETA operations will last only one year, its purpose is to temporarily assist ASEAN in setting up an organization structure for preventing, monitoring, and mitigating fires and haze. Because ASEAN may want, or require, continued assistance from international donor organizations in handling the problem of transboundary haze, another purpose of the RETA is to help coordinate assistance from a large number of international donor organizations. Even though the RETA has been in operation for only three months, it has already developed a large network of communication that includes the following donors. These include:

RETA Scope of Work

There are seven key tasks that the RETA has chosen for itself. All of these help operationalize and implement the RHAP. The seven tasks are:

  1. provide direct support to operationalizing and implementing the RHAP and National Haze Action Plans (NHAPs);

  2. improve ASEAN Secretariatīs fire-and-haze-related information management and dissemination system (which includes establishing an intranet for fire and haze episodes in ASEAN);

  3. help improve the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) in Singapore. This centre will serve as a regional hydrometeorological information center, and will collaborate closely with the national meteorological services in all nine of the ASEAN member countries (Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Cambodia is expected to join the ASEAN community later this year);

  4. improve cooperation and collaboration among all types of agencies involved in fire prevention and mitigation;

  5. establish fire detection and monitoring systems at the regional level;

  6. perform regional-level fire-and-haze-related studies; and

  7. hold regional seminars and workshops on fire-and-haze-related topics.

RETA Activities Thus Far

The RETA officially began operations on 12 April 1998 with the arrival of the Team Leader. After informal visits with a number of Jakarta-based representatives of international donor organizations and several key Government of Indonesia agencies, the RETA held an Informal Meeting of Donors on 23 April 1998 in Jakarta. This helped familiarize a large number of donor agencies with the RETA.

Some initial commitments to work with the RETA were made at an Open Forum Discussion held on 11 March 1998, again in Jakarta, since the RETA is housed in the ASEAN Secretariat Building in Jakarta. The following day, the RETA held its Inception Workshop, at which its work plan was formally approved. An important conclusion reached at this Workshop was the National Haze Action Plans should be developed for each of the nine ASEAN member countries. After all, if the RETA is to help ASEAN improve its fire suppression capability, most of this type of work must occur at the national level.

Because of the importance of the National Haze Action Plans in building ASEANīs fire suppression capability, the RETA held a Preparatory Meeting on National Haze Action Plans on 8-9 June 1998 in Manila, Philippines. A major conclusion of this meeting was that each countryīs National Plan should be highly operational rather than descriptive. The RETA assisted this process by presenting a recommended framework for operationalizing the draft National Haze Actions Plans of the ASEAN member countries. The RETA also co-financed the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Workshop on Transboundary Atmospheric Pollution held in Singapore on 2-5 June 1998.

Upcoming issues of International Forest Fire News will give readers an update on RETA activities to keep them informed of how the RETA fares in achieving its goals.



Erik Scarsborough


ASEAN Secretariat
70 A, Jl. Sisingamangaraja
PO Box 2072
Jakarta, Indonesia

Fax: ++62-21-724-3504, 739-8234
Tel:  ++62-21-724-3372, 726-2991 ext. 315

IFFN No. 19
Country Notes
Projects and Programmes