"Of course, rains are most welcome anywhere in Indonesia, as many parts of the country are battling severe drought", said Mr. Töpfer. "However, I must stress that the United Nations system's efforts to mobilize international assistance to fight the catastrophic fires must continue. We need to act on the basis of a worst-case scenario -- short rains, return of the drought and a repetition of last year's disastrous situation."
"Both the national authorities and the international community, through the United Nations, must stand ready to tackle the further recurrence of the fires, which could certainly be expected", said Mr. Töpfer, who has been asked by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to coordinate the United Nations response to the fires.
UNEP and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs are continuing their follow-up work to last week's expert and donor meetings in Geneva. In particular, donor countries are being requested to provide emergency assistance to Indonesia in line with a $10 million short-term action plan, presented by Mr. Töpfer. The plan, which would enhance efforts already taking place, covers the provision of essential equipment and training for local fire-fighters, the appropriate use of aircraft, operational management, communications and support to government liaison teams.
The latest report of the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) mission to Indonesia, which was presented to the Geneva meetings, estimates that over 250,000 hectares of land in East Kalimantan have been razed by fires this year, posing local, regional and global threats to human health and biological diversity.
For more information, please contact:
Head of Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit,
Disaster Response Branch, OCHA,
Geneva, tel: 41-22-917-1142, fax: 41-22-907-0257;
Gertrud Attar, UNEP Information Officer in Geneva,
tel: 41-22-979-9234, fax: 797-3464;
Jim Sniffen, UNEP Information Officer in New York,
tel: 1-212-963-8094, fax: 963-7341,
Tore J. Brevik,
Director UNEP Information and Public Affairs,
tel: 254-2-623292, fax: 623927,
UNEP Media and Communications Officer, tel: 254-2-623084, fax: 623692,
UNEP Web Site: http://www.unep.org
UNEP News Release 1998/20