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The Greatest Ecological Disaster of the Decade

Nairobi, 19 February 1998 - Forest fires are spreading once again in Indonesia, threatening the return of the choking haze which blanketed a large area of South East Asia last year, causing widespread health and environmental problems.

Mr. Klaus Topfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will travel to Malaysia next week to meet with ministers attending the 2nd Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting on the haze problem. "I want to discuss, among other things, how UNEP could provide better coordination of the support for this extremely serious problem," said Mr. Topfer.

As a timely reminder of the catastrophic events of 1997, a new documentary film from the editorially independent Television Trust for the Environment (TVE), "Forest Fires: Primates, Palm Oil and Pyromania," will be broadcast worldwide by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) from today.

UNEP provided background information and financial support for the film which investigates the causes of the catastrophe. "The film asks the question: How will concern be translated into action to save Indonesia's remaining tropical forests?" said Mr. Topfer.

"The fires of last year, and those still burning today in Indonesia, may turn out to be the greatest ecological disaster of the decade," said Mr. Topfer. "The tragedy is that future generations, who have no say in current policy, will have to bear the costs, and nobody seems willing to safeguard their interests," he said.

Many of the fires were started for the purposes of shifting cultivation or conversion of forest to palm oil production. The November 1997 report of the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (of which UNEP was a member) concluded that the fires "have turned out to be an environmental emergency of exceptional proportions", and warned of "a repetition of the present emergency" if current practices remained unchanged.

The premier of the TVE film is scheduled for February 19 (21:30 GMT) on BBC World's Earth Report series, with an introduction by Sir David Attenborough.

UNEP News Release 1998/5



For more information, please contact:

Mr. Tore J. Brevik, Director, UNEP
Information and Public Affairs
Tel: +254-2-623292, Fax: +254-2623692,

Mr. Robert Bisset, UNEP Media and
Communications Officer, IPA
Tel: +254-2-623084, Fax: +254-2-623692,

UNEP News Release 1998/3

Thursday 19 Feb 1998
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